“We dispatched the last trucks with our litchis to Cape Town this past weekend, and we’re grateful to have finished before the rain we’ve had recently,” says Stuart Butcher, Tomahawk marketing director. “Our last shipments for Europe are loading this week, and our first seafreight arrivals landed in Europe last week.”
South African litchis arrived by sea concurrently with Madagascar, which is quite unusual, and made possible by an unusually early and large crop.
“It’s been an extremely big crop, bigger than we expected and bigger than the forecast, and three weeks earlier. Last year we started picking Mauritius litchis on the 29th of November. This year we started on the 4th November. This caught us all a bit off-guard.”
Being so early offered them a fantastic airfreight window of opportunity while Madagascar was slightly later than usual.
“It ended up being a very good opportunity with a very long airfreight supply window,” he notes. “Our citrus export season has been extremely tough this year, so we needed something to go our way.”
Tomahawk is in the Kaalrug Valley close to Malelane, on a year-on-year basis the largest (and earliest) litchi supply area in South Africa.
USA exports picking up significantly
They pack a little bit for the local market (which came under pressure early on) but 90% of their volumes are exported.
“Litchi consumption in South Africa is not big so most of our fruit is moved overseas.”
The vast majority of Tomahawk’s litchis go to Europe from where it is widely distributed within the continent and some via road to St Petersburg.
Demand from the Middle East was disappointing, despite the World Cup, he says, and they sent no seafreight litchis there this season. He remarks that it seems a missed opportunity.
“For the USA we pack into the Rhino brand and the USA programme has picked up significantly from last year. Exports to the USA has increased to about 15% of our trade, which is quite amazing when you take where it’s come from.”
The season has played off against many odds, one of which is South Africa’s institutionalized power cuts called loadshedding.
“Loadshedding has been horrendous,” Stuart says. “We’re off between 8 to 10 hours a day. Diesel costs are very high.”
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