Following the violent unrest and subsequent closure of the Durban port and cold stores, as well as the main freeway, all stakeholders have been working around the clock to get back to 100% efficiency and recover the backlog. It is testament to the entrepreneurial spirit of the citrus industry that disruptions, while inevitable, have been kept to a minimum. Fruit was moved to Cape Town for export and growers slowed down or suspended packing as required. At FruitOne our involvement in a cold store project in Johannesburg afforded us the opportunity to load containers and truck them to Cape Town to ease congestion and continue to supply our clients.
The most recent challenge has been the cyber-attack on Transnet which has impacted the import and export of containers. However, systems were put in place and the export of citrus continued, albeit slower than normal. By day 5 after the cyber-attack Transnet had recovered all systems and was fully operational.
With the northern production regions starting to hit the peak of the Valencia packing it is imperative that all stakeholders continue to work together to get exports back up to speed. Initial indications were for a record Valencia crop due to ideal weather conditions during blossom and fruit set. Current indications are that fruit size on the Valencia crop will be smaller than initially estimated, and this is leading to a reduction in total volume (now down to 54m cartons and likely to decrease further). While there will be an abundance of fruit in the count 72/88 range (which is perfect for most markets), we anticipate a higher volume of smaller counts 105/125. These sizes are good for juicing programs, and it would be prudent for exporters and growers to ensure that only a limited volume of these counts are exported for fresh sales, so as to avoid a scenario similar to 2018 where the late markets came under pressure. With the relatively strong Rand this year it is even more critical to understand the breakeven point and not take any unnecessary risks.
At FruitOne our investment in supplying retail programs is paying dividends and we continue to supply our discerning clients across the globe. We have now finished our Tango, Navel and Navel late packing and are moving onto Cambria’s and the Valencias-types (our grapefruit and lemons were finished some weeks ago).
“The European market is currently requesting enormous flexibility when it comes to short-term amendments and program fine-tuning. Since supply chains from diverse origins are badly affected logistically, programs require alternative solutions and additional attention”, comments Jürgen Müller from Fruitone Europe.
Similar unsteadiness is currently identified at a consumer behavior level. Virus-related constraints are still changing consumer preferences and necessities. One of the new parameters since the easing of COVID restrictions , is the new vacation alternatives: e.g., own country discovery trips, caravan and boat renting or simply customized staycations. All this mix has driven the planning of retail and hospitality sector to a new level.
In some city restaurants the booking queues have required extra patience, meaning the consumption of lemons and fresh juice oranges is increasing steadily. The distribution channels and point -of -sales are diversifying remarkably: one summer ago, supermarkets were the main fresh produce outlet, now smaller shops are reopening and the catering industry recuperating, in some cases showing an overwhelming revival. Also the thirst for festivals and events in small and medium scale are showing increasing consumption. New online retailers and delivery services are advancing their market share striking fast at city proximity distribution level.
Consumers are requesting added value and diversity, high appreciation for flavor and seedless easy peelers has driven Tango mandarin sales, not only in classic northern European markets but also in Mediterranean countries giving it an interesting boost. The opposite is happening to some early soft citrus varieties arriving in Europe at later stages of the season, in particular smaller sizes aren’t finding adequate outlets.
One thing is certain, logistical solution clarity and a sense for correctly identifying developing service trends will remain strategic factors, concludes Jürgen Müller.