The coronavirus is making the start of the South African citrus season challenging. "On the one hand, the harvest is not bad, by any means. There are, however, differences when it comes to varieties and production areas. On the other hand, packing stations have to stick to the social distancing rules. That means just about all of them cannot meet the usual capacity. Extra shifts have been added, but they are almost all working under capacity. That will certainly make things difficult in the coming weeks," expects Eddy Kreukniet of Exsa Europe in the Netherlands.
"Container availability also remains a big problem, which affects every harbor. This issue is being partly solved by using conventional ships. But these do not all call at every port. That makes for increased inland freight costs. This is a global problem. The unpredictability of our trade sector has generally become more extreme than usual."
"At the same time, there is a healthy demand for citrus in Europe. The demand was already high in recent weeks. In other years, there was supply from other countries. For example, oranges and mandarins from Egypt. Or mandarins from Morocco and Israel. But these countries now have virtually nothing on the way. Stocks are, therefore, low. Overseas citrus from South Africa, Peru, and Argentina is very welcome on the European market. Prices are at a good level. Oranges are 30/40% more expensive than last year. And mandarins' prices are about 10/20% higher," says Eddy.
The first grapefruit being packed in South Africa at Lona, an Exsa Europe shareholder.
It does not surprise Eddy that citrus is at the top of people's shopping lists in times of crisis. "We see that in a general flu season. Oranges and mandarins are at the top of people's minds when it comes to eating healthier. I do find it unusual that the more luxurious products seem to be floundering. I dare not say whether this demand will recover soon. But, the demand for basic products is good."