South Africa hopes the requisite protocols will be in place by February next year to start exporting avocados to China.

The Southern Africa chapter of the International Fresh Produce Association unpacked what China might mean for South African avocados which for years have been overexposed to the UK and European Union which in turn are overexposed to oversupply from ten countries, dominated by Peru.

Mabel Zhuang, IFPA China country manager, told the webinar that China’s avocado imports over the nine months of January to September this year (50,000 tonnes) already exceeded all of the avocados imported last year. China’s per capita avocado consumption is currently a miniscule 100g of avocado per year, according to the World Avocado Organisation’s figures.

"Chinese customers will expect good quality fruit from South Africa.”
Roger Armitage, managing director of Halls, noted that the industry had worked very hard to get to this point. “The biggest challenge from a South African producer’s point of view is going to understand the protocol which does involve methyl bromide, to ensure we can pack up the fruit quickly enough to be fumigated at temperature and then brought down through the cold chain. That’s going to be critical to land hard, fresh and green fruit in China.”

His colleague at Halls China, commercial manager Lifan Yu, gave an overview of the company’s ripening facility in Shanghai. “We are quite happy to add quality South African fruit. Chinese customers will expect good quality fruit from South Africa.”

South Africa expects 20 million 4kg cartons of avocados next year. How much will South Africa send to China initially?

“I don’t think there’ll be massive bulk shipments,” observed Trevor Dukes, the chief operating officer of The Farm Fresh Group. “I think everyone will be prudent. Maybe 5 to 10% of our volumes would be a realistic goal for us to understand the market and to make sure we’re in the right place at the right time, and understand what our competitors are doing there.”

Clive Garrett, South Africa’s representative at the World Avocado Organisation, remarked that a lot would depend on the demand from China.

Kenya jumps to China's second largest avo supplier
The performance of Kenyan avocados on the Chinese market is highly encouraging to South African avocado growers.

In terms of both volume and value, Mabel Zhuang's presentation showed, Kenya has surged to second place among the small number of countries – nine – allowed to supply China with avocados.

Source: IFPA China presentation

Kenya is still miles off Peru: from January to September 2023 Peru exported avocados worth over $105 million; the value of Kenyan avocados in only their second year of export was $7.6 million, a smidgen ahead of Chile which dropped back hard.

Location location location
Kenya’s location on the East African coast, facing China across the Indian Ocean, accounts for its quick success in China.

“South Africa is ideally located to serve South East Asia,” remarked Clive Garrett, South Africa’s representative at the World Avocado Organisation.


South Africa's avocado crop - of which 52% are grown in Limpopo Province - runs from March to September

Garrett stated that vessels complete the 12,200 km journey from South Africa to Singapore in approximately 15 days and that it takes 35 days on average to traverse the sea route of 26,600km from Peru to Singapore.

Most South African avocados leave through Cape Town for Europe, but Durban is the natural choice towards the East. Clive put the shipping time between Durban and Shenzhen at 17 to 24 days, depending on the shipping line.

“I think getting to understand the logistics chain from the East Coast will be important,” Halls’ Armitage posited.

The young generation consumes avo as a drink or dessert
Elena Huang, marketing manager Shanghai Supafresh (which, eleven years ago, brought in the first container of avocados from Mexico), explained how the company ripens avocados to fit their clients’ needs.
Their clients in food services were asking for more and more avocados, she said, and Supafresh was assisting them in recipe development for “a more Chinese way of consuming it”.

“In China we have a quite different way of avocado applications. Use it to make a burger to replace the bun, avocado on pizza and avocado with coffee – that’s a new thing.”

Right: an avocado coffee smoothie (photo 229983393 © | Dreamstime.com)

Avocado has become a regular smoothie ingredient, especially in tier 1 and tier 2 cities, she said, noting that some of their customers stored puréed avocado to mix with fresh avocado, while others used only fresh avocados. Demand for frozen avocado rarely came across their desk.

“The young generation consumes avocado not as a savoury food, but as a drink or a dessert,” Huang told the webinar. “The demand from this kind of customer is increasing. They want us to deliver more avocados to their stores.”

Manager for South African products at Yonghui Superstores, Lynn Yang, confirmed the opportunity for South African avocados. The company sells 20 million RMB of ripe-and-ready avocados per year.
Building trust among Chinese receivers would be the top priority, Dukes added. “We cannot afford bad first impressions and we cannot afford to fall short of expectations.”

For more information:
Elena Huang, Shanghai Supafresh
Email: placeholder1@gmail.com

Lifan Yu, Halls China
Email: lifan@hallschina.com

Lynn Yang, Yonghui Superstores
Email: placeholder2@gmail.com

Mabel Zhuang, IFPA China
Email: mzhuang@freshproduce.com