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Import program brings South African lychees to the USA

Nick Bernal bills himself, and the rest of the team at Seasons Farms Fresh, as the “Indiana Jones of the fruit world”. Travelling around the world looking for unique and off-season produce to bring into the United States means more niche fruit availability. “We go into the jungles of Colombia, the highlands of Chile – we find indigenous tribes growing fruits and we teach them everything they need to know about food safety, logistics, etc.,” he said.

Bernal is helping two American importers, DNE World Fruit and SA Direct, ramp up their lychee programs. The first South African shipment came in last year. Less than 10 pallets were brought in as a sample of the program for clients and customers. The program aims to fill a market void because there are no lychees this time of year grown in the USA. South Africa is a big producer of lychees, mostly for Europe, so the South African Litchi Growers' Association wanted to target the American market. “This year we’re doing about 50 pallets a week,” said Bernal. 

Imports started the first week of December and for the next eight to nine weeks he wants to blanket as much of the country as possible to build the program for next year. The program is not easy; lots of red tape, regulations and the fruit is expensive, since it has to be flown from South Africa to Germany, then to Atlanta, GA, then trucked to Mississippi to be irradiated. “It’s a 60,000 box program. We’ll see how the markets respond.”

Lychees are sourced from different growing regions in South Africa. Though many people might not immediately think of that country as being a dominant lychee grower, Bernal says it happens to be one of the biggest producers for the European market. Imports to the USA are the Mauritius variety. “It’s probably the most hearty variety for shipping,” said Bernal. 

Supplies are ample and the quality has been good; colour will transition from the light yellow-green and tinges of red to fully red as the season progresses. “We are hoping to run the season all the way to the Chinese New Year which is January 28.” There’s a peak in consumption of the premium fruit during the entire holiday season with consumers gifting fruit baskets. “A lot of these niche tropical fruits tend to get more exposure which is what we’re trying to go for.” Bernal expects MSRP to be around $6.99/lb. at the retail level.

For more information:

Nick Bernal
Season’s Farm Fresh
Ph: 305-608-9020

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