Slow start for South African berry exports

The country’s berry export season is expected to gain momentum after a slow start

South African blueberry exporters have reported strong markets so far this season, although they have been frustrated by a slow start to production.

The industry is still on target to export some 25,000 tonnes this campaign.

Brent Walsh, chief executive of Berries ZA, said that after a slow start there were now signs of volumes increasing and after airfreight dominating, there was now a shift to more sea exports.

“Airfreight volumes are however higher than usual this time of the year, due to a substantial shortage in majority of the markets,” he said.

“However, it is too early to say how the season will pan out, but producers and exporters are standing by our season forecast of 25,000 tonnes given the healthy status of South African Blueberry orchards,” Walsh noted. “We are slightly behind for this time of the season.”

The ongoing cold and wet weather in the Western Cape, where more than 70 per cent of South Africa’s blueberries are produced, pushed out the peak harvest by a couple of weeks.

“The volumes have not been impacted and the berries are sitting beautifully on the bushes waiting for the final ripening before the peak harvest,” Walsh continued.

“Due to the blueberry shortage in our export markets we have seen very good pricing for our early season exports. While we expect this to soften as we hit our peak weeks we are confident that this year’s pricing will provide some relief to blueberry growers across South Africa following the significant impact the Transnet strike in October 2022.”

Early airfreight volumes have been directed mostly to the Middle Eastern markets. “We will see this shift to greater volumes directed to more traditional markets in the UK and European Union,” he outlined. ”The later season has been responsible for lower shipments to traditional markets so far this season.”

Walsh also confirmed that South Africa was keen to increase its presence in the consumer markets of the east.

“We will certainly be pushing for our market access into China as soon as possible as the East Asian markets hold much opportunity for SA Blueberries.”

Demand for South African blueberries were confirmed during Asia Fruit Logistica in Hong Kong by various stakeholders in the East.

“We are also working closely with India to open that marker as soon as possible,” Walsh noted. ”This will provide an opportunity for additional market growth.”

He explained that South African stonefruit was next on the Chinese entry list, following access granted recently for South African avocados.

“Stonefruit is up next for Chinese market access, but the fact that the applications include all stonefruit (except for cherries) will expedite the protocol for blueberries being assessed sooner rather than later,” Walsh added.

Berries ZA will also be assessing the viability of market access into South Korea, Japan and Vietnam.