The South African apple and pear industry expects its upcoming topfruit marketing season to be challenging in Europe as a result of atypical weather conditions during the production stage, coupled with high stocks on the European market following a recovery in the region’s domestic crop. PBUK speaks exclusively with South Africa’s deciduous fruit grower organisation Hortgro to get the low-down for UK buyers.
“Although the 2018 winter received better rainfall, the drought has not been broken in all production areas,” Jacques du Preez, who heads up the general management of trade and markets at Hortgro, tells PBUK.
“Langkloof, for example, is still battling with water restrictions and allocated water quantities. Despite this, producers are still carefully optimistic.
“Current weather conditions indicate that this year’s harvest will have good colour. Colour is expected to be very good and sizes will be average. Eating quality will be very good too.”
Overall this season (2018/19), South Africa expects to produce 928,121 tonnes of apples, and 422,728 tonnes of pears, according to the latest forecasts from Hortgro.
Apple exports are expected to be 6% higher than in the previous season, while pear sendings are estimated to remain at a similar level to 2017/18.
“This [increase in apple exports] is mainly attributed to new orchards that are coming into production, as well as higher yields,” explains du Preez. “A higher pack-out is expected, and, naturally, fruit with better colour and size.”
The stabilisation of pear exports, meanwhile, is due largely to the heatwave in October 2018, which impacted on the Packham’s Triumph crop that was in bloom at that time.
“Several older pear orchards were also removed during the previous season, and the effect thereof is now starting to show,” adds du Preez.
On the whole, however, du Preez says the knock-on effect of inclement weather is “not as bad as initially anticipated”.
“Topfruit side-stepped the heatwave of October [unlike plums, unfortunately, for which the timing was really bad as the fruit was in the flowering and fruit set stage],” he explains. “The summer has been relatively moderate, and that also helped.”
Market-wise, the UK will remain a vital and strategic destination for the South African topfruit industry both this season and beyond. Some 20% of South Africa’s apple crop and 6% of its pear crop will be exported to the island-nation in 2018/19.
“No major volume changes are expected,” du Preez notes. “Exports [to the UK] will most likely stay in the same range as the previous season.”
The arrival schedule will be different however, with du Preez anticipating that the first volumes will dock slightly later than last season due to much larger stock levels in Europe.
“Last year, the first apples arrived in Week 9/10, and pears from Week 4/5,” he explains. “For the 2019 season, apples will arrive from week 10, and pears from week 5/6.
“It will definitely be a challenging season marketing-wise due to the very high stock levels [in Europe]. We anticipate that our marketing window this year will be shorter than last year, and probably there will be pressure on price also.”
From March to October, UK buyers can expect to receiveapple varieties such as: Royal Gala, Gala, Pink Lady (Cripps Pink), Granny Smith, Braeburn and Golden Delicious. Pear arrivals will include: Packham’s Triumph, Williams Bon Chretien, Vermont Beauty and Forelle.
The fruit will be promoted in the UK as a premium, seasonal offering with “exceptional taste” and exclusive varieties.
Marketing activities are being rolled out under the theme of ‘Doing Good with South African Fruit’ from a health, food waste and ethical perspective.
Already, six new recipes showcasing South African apples and pears are available on the South African fruit campaign’s website beautifulcountrybeautifulfruit.com
And, for the first time, Hortgro is working with cookbook author, blogger, actress and TV presenter Nicola ‘Milly’ Millbank on a new topfruit recipe video, which will be posted on Millbank’s Instagram profile (@millycookbook, which garners 38,500 followers) and made available on the South African fruit campaign website in May.
Other activities include trade and consumer PR; social media activity; and a topfruit supper club hosted by Ms Marmite Lover (aka chef Kerstin Rodgers) during May; plus outdoor, print and online advertising.
Looking beyond this season, Hortgro intends to strengthen its partnership with the UK, where it supplies mainly the supermarkets, as well as foodservice operators and wholesale markets.
“The UK remains pivotal to our industry,” du Preez points out. “We would like to grow this market despite the challenging conditions, such as Brexit. And we don’t foresee this changing very soon.”
Regarding the UK’s anticipated departure from the European Union, du Preez says the South African government has been working closely with the UK embassy in South Africa, focusing on setting up bilateral agreements and contingency plans to accommodate whatever outcome and timeline Brexit might follow.
“We believe that when the dust settles it will be business as usual,” he comments. “The UK remains a very important trading partner for South Africa, and not just for fruit.”
Although South Africa’s topfruit sector remains in a consolidation phase because of drought, Hortgro expects production to continue growing for at least the next five years, provided there are no dramatic climatic influences.
The growth trajectory is a result of the young trees that have established over the past five years. Du Preez says this has resulted in a higher density of plantings with better strains of higher-yielding varieties that will translate into better pack-outs, such as improved cultivars of “old-faithful” varieties like Pink Lady apples.
With production continuing to expand, Hortgro believes the UK represents an ideal avenue for this increasing supply of apples and pears since South Africa’s offer resonates well with UK consumers.
“The ethical way we produce our fruit – in terms of keeping the best interests of the environment at heart, and the food safety systems in place – coupled with the great taste of our fruit, is a great selling point,” affirms du Preez.
In terms of its carbon footprint, Hugh Campbell, Chair of CCC Steering Committee and General Manager of Hortgro Science, reveals to PBUK that that there has been a consistent decrease in CO2e/kg of fruit produced by South Africa’s apple and pear sector.
“Between the period of 2011 and 2016, pome fruit was able to reduce its carbon footprint substantially – a 39% reduction – by focusing on the hotspots that were identified which led to mitigation measures being put in place to address the issues,” he confirms.
In the future, Campbell says the desire is for the entire fruit industry in South Africa to be measuring and improving its carbon footprint.
These and other issues – such as the global promotion of topfruit, climate change and its impact on production, the coordination and sharing of R&D, and market access – will be addressed on a global level by Hortgro’s chairman, Nicholas Dicey, who was recently elected as the president of the World Apple and Pear Association (WAPA).
“We are extremely proud of Nic, and confident that he will provide good leadership to WAPA during his two-year tenure,” Anton Rabe, executive director of Hortgro, tells PBUK.
“The South African deciduous fruit industry is blessed with excellent leaders such as Nic, who have over the years ensured that our industry remains at the forefront of the many challenges it faces.
“The WAPA presidency will no doubt expose Nic further to global challenges, which will benefit the local sector and the next generation of industry leaders.”