How the current COVID-19 pandemic could potentially affect South African citrus exports to North America remains to be seen.
From a supply perspective, Mark Greenberg of Capespan North America Inc. in Montreal, Canada says that from a production standpoint, the upcoming season looks good. “Production is not going to be the issue,” says Greenberg. Capespan North America ships soft citrus, navel oranges and grapefruit to the U.S. and Canada along with lemons to Canada only. “The season looks normal and the product looks good. We don’t anticipate there being any challenges from a horticulture standpoint.”
At the same time, Greenberg says unforeseen challenges may arise largely around logistics developments related to the COVID-19 pandemic including the continuity of picking and packing operations and shipping. “We’re optimistic that we’ll have the means to react to challenges but as to how those challenges will manifest themselves, we don’t know yet,” he says. “As long as pickers are able to pick and packers can pack and containers can be loaded for the market, we’re not anticipating any disruption on supplies. But those are big ifs. Right now, we’re seeing some challenges in getting containers loaded but that’s been a combination of events that aren’t entirely related to COVID 19. There are just some logistical complexities in South Africa that need to be managed, and we are managing them.”
First shipments out
Greenberg says that for the Canadian market, the first loadings of lemons have just begun, and soft citrus should start shortly as well.
When shipments arrive though, Greenberg anticipates continued good demand on citrus items. “Fresh produce has been able to maintain its momentum during this pandemic, even though retailers are having to scale back the number of customers in the shops at a time and customers are reducing the number of trips to the store,” he says. “Within fresh produce, citrus has done quite well. It’s seen as a very healthy choice especially in these circumstances and they’re often sold in bags which consumers find desirable because of the perception that the actual product been touched by as many people. In addition, citrus tends to have a longer shelf life at home than do other fresh fruit products. We’re expecting to carry this over to the import season which will begin in May.”
At the same time though, pricing is likely to look similar to last year’s pricing. “Supplies will moderate itself to ensure that that happens. I think that soft citrus such as mandarins will be in short supply in May and early June, which I think will drive up retail pricing to some extent,” says Greenberg. “But apart from that, I’m not anticipating any major change in pricing from prior years.” Of course, he adds that the impact of a weakening Canadian dollar could serve to drive up retail prices in Canada for some imported products.