South African grapefruit industry pulls back exports after speedy start

About two-thirds of South Africa’s grapefruit crop has been exported in a season which got off to a sprint but has since settled into a steady jog. If the grapefruit season can be stretched until the beginning of August, growers could benefit from the traditional upswing at the tail-end of the season.

The early start to the South African grapefruit season and subsequent high shipment volumes initially caused some negative sentiment in the market, with some buyers expressing disbelief that the season was simply really early.

Grapefruit inspection at Durban harbour

The latest red grapefruit export estimate is 11.9 million 17kg cartons, 13% down from the original estimate, and between 800,000 and 896,000 cartons of white Marsh grapefruit as export opportunities might decrease to markets partial to white grapefruit.

Since week 19 packing rates have slowed down, bringing grapefruit shipments in line with previous years. An apprehension that the exportable crop remains concentrated in a larger size range where there is already market saturation for certain counts, thus shaving off more than 30% of the exportable crop for the rest of the season, was allayed as harvesting has been moving to later areas whose older orchards are yielding smaller fruit, mostly peaking at counts 40, 45 and 50.

A closer alignment between packed and shipped volumes has been a positive from the season, resulting in lower volumes in the harbours.

The majority of the fruit for the next three weeks will be forthcoming from Letsitele and Hoedspruit whereafter most of the packing until the end of the season, around week 32, will be done in the Onderberg, Nkwalini and the Orange River, as the Valencia harvest gets underway in the northern areas.

Nervousness about Japanese grapefruit market
Europe has received over 1.2 million 17kg cartons, with significantly larger volumes of counts 32, 35 and 40 than last year. In northern Europe the market is fairly strong, except on larger counts.

Japan has also received significantly more counts 35 among the higher volumes that have gone there and there has been nervousness regarding the market’s ability to absorb traditional volumes.

China and Hong Kong, too, received a higher proportion of larger-sized fruit, counts 35 and 40, also a lot of 45s, but the market is holding up well.

Demand from South Korea is good but rejections of non-compliant consignments and associated forwarding problems are hampering a constant flow of supply, notes the grapefruit focus group.

In Russia grapefruit prices are on a steep decline due to the large volumes sent at the beginning of the season.

The Middle Eastern market seems saturated, even though cumulative volumes this year are lower than past seasons.

Most South African grapefruit producers have Valencias as well, and given the sheer volumes of Valencias that will be ripening soon, some packhouses will use the opportunity to stagger their grapefruit packing while some may prefer to get their grapefruit packing out of the way, even if not ideal from a marketing viewpoint.
Like last year, a concern has again been raised that some fruit packed for processing do not end up at processing facilities but instead are marketed in competition with higher-grade fruit, a practice which is to the detriment of the entire grapefruit industry, the focus group points out.

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