The production of citrus in South Africa is growing. USDA reports in 2019-2020 season an increase by six percent. Just like in the 2018-2019 season. About half of the South African citrus acreage is used to grow oranges. It is expected that 1.2 million tons of oranges will be exported in the 2020-2021 season.
Jean-Pierre Bezuidenhout, Olympic Fruit
A large part of this is destined for the EU, with the Netherlands as the most important company: 23 percent of the export is destined for the Netherlands. The Netherlands also imports mandarins and clementines from South Africa; it’s expected to exceed 86,000 tons, 13 percent more than last season. The USDA expects global export growth of nine percent for South African mandarins and clementines in the 2020-2021 season, partly as a result of a greater demand for healthier food to be able to cope with corona.
Although he saw an increase in the retail programme of sales for citrus, Jean-Pierre Bezuidenhout, Import Manager with Olympic Fruit, is not sure that this is solely the influence of Covid-19. Olympic’s focus on retail, and with less channels being open for sales so that more sales had to be via retail and not horeca, could have contributed to the increased sales as well.
“Overall it would be difficult to attribute changes in vitamin C retail consumption solely to corona.” Notwithstanding that conclusion he foresees a good market. “It looks like it will be a good season for South African citrus.” A lot more fruits are expected to be sent. “Regardless of the issue of citrus disease Blackspot in lemons, grapefruits, navels and Valencia’s still a fair amount is expected to come into Europe.” Jean-Pierre explains that a lot more plantations came into production this season. “In the past South-African growers invested a lot and now we see the fruits coming of the trees and we will see a lot more fruit in the market.”
With all the volumes coming into Europe, is demand going to be able to keep up? Overall Jean-Pierre anticipates that there will be good demand for South-African citrus. The market for the different types of citrus vary. He observes that the demand for soft citrus is growing each year. "Although both demand and supply are growing, supply is definitely outgrowing demand. The supply of soft citrus is growing faster than what the demand is." Late April the expectation is that demand for soft citrus will pick up in the next coming weeks. The market for lemons presents a different picture and appears to be negatively affected by Covid-19. "The demand for lemons depends a lot on restaurants, airlines and out-of-home facilities opening." Enough Spanish product is available, causing lower demand. For Star Ruby grapefruits the market is empty by late April which leads to good prospects.
Logistics and sizes
Although there is a shortage of containers at the moment, logistical issues are not expected to stand in the way of a smooth citrus season. "Currently, at the end of April, there is a shortage of containers in South Africa. To assist in alleviating the problem MSC is sending 2.000 extra containers. If that does not alleviate the issue then we are geared and ready to be loading more conventional vessels instead of containers."
Jean-Pierre foresees that the obstacle this season could lie in the sizes of the citrus fruits. In the North the rain accompanying a cyclone has caused bigger fruits as opposed to the Eastern and Western cape where smaller fruits are expected. The commercial manager notes that for sales to the retail smaller fruits are preferred and that bigger fruits may be less easy to sell. “Particularly in Star Ruby grapefruits more bigger fruit is available which proves, especially in Europe, more difficult to sell.”