Careful marketing campaign of recent seasons upended by unexpectedly high volumes and small counts

South Africa: Reasons for grapefruit explosion in China remain unclear

As a very long citrus season comes to an end, the grapefruit – once called the ‘turnaround fruit’ – has once again proven a tough nut to crack.

Volumes came in a lot later and at much higher volumes than originally estimated (16.4 million of 17 kg equivalent cartons packed for export, or 279,000 tonnes) and peaked simultaneously with navels, which caused a huge influx of cargo at Durban Harbour, where infrastructure was already straining under the season’s high volumes.

China was a major recipient of South Africa’s grapefruit, exports more than doubling this year to 51,000 tonnes. This was not all good news: in the South African industry some have expressed surprise at some of counts on the Chinese market, like 55s and even 60s.

In June already there were reports of unpopular counts causing blockages in the European market, dragging down the sales tempo and price. At times grapefruit prices have been half of last year’s prices.

Were traders taking a chance or was there a pull?
It’s uncertain what led to the explosion in grapefruit to China, FreshPlaza is told, and whether this has been as a result of a pull for the fruit or whether it has been a result of Chinese traders taking orders without necessarily having a market for the fruit. “Chinese traders are gamblers” is a refrain among the South African citrus industry when talking about this year’s grapefruit campaign.

China has now surpassed Japan as the second largest taker of South African grapefruit after the Netherlands. The final volumes of grapefruit are still arriving in South East Asia.

While some in the grapefruit industry aren’t impressed by the small counts that have ended up being exported, they add that it is a free trading environment. The caution exercised during previous seasons was thrown to the wind this year by some exporters, it is said.

South Africa needs new markets
South Africa, the de facto sole grapefruit exporter from the Southern Hemisphere, needs new markets. The USA might take some from the north of South Africa in future (although the past season has shown its sensitivity to oversupply and it already took 4,500 tonnes of Northern Cape grapefruit this year, while Canada takes double that).

India is another one the citrus industry has been working on, although trade received a setback due to a change in the cold protocol in April this year. After more than a decade of successful in-transit cold treatment, India now demands land-based cold treatment on the South African side which is detrimental from a quality and cost point of view.

The Philippines is close to opening for South African citrus, although like all new markets initial volumes will be small.


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