South Africa’s Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum director and citrus grower Piet Smit, second from left, receives a plaque commemorating the arrival of South Africa’s first shipment of navel oranges to the Port of Houston. From left to right are Bruce McEvoy, director of global affairs for Seald Sweet International and the UNIVEG Group and U.S. representative for the South African Citrus Growers Association; Smit; Roger Guenther, executive director of the Port of Houston Authority; and Ricky Kunz, managing director of trade development for the port.
South Africa’s Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum director and citrus grower Piet Smit, second from left, receives a plaque commemorating the arrival of South Africa’s first shipment of navel oranges to the Port of Houston. From left to right are Bruce McEvoy, director of global affairs for Seald Sweet International and the UNIVEG Group and U.S. representative for the South African Citrus Growers Association; Smit; Roger Guenther, executive director of the Port of Houston Authority; and Ricky Kunz, managing director of trade development for the port.

South African summer citrus has a new destination — the Port of Houston.

Capespan North America and Seald Sweet International have received seven containers of navel oranges as part of a pilot program, and four more are expected in a second shipment around Sept. 9.

“Houston is an excellent gateway and provides a central location enabling greater efficiencies of time and cost,” Suhanra Conradie, chief executive officer of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum, said in a news release. “It offers us the capability to serve the market needs of the entire Midwest area from Houston to Chicago, and points west.”

The group represents 230 South African growers exporting citrus from the Port of Cape Town to the U.S.

Capespan North America has received most of the fruit. “The expansion of the program to the Port of Houston will enable us to better meet the needs of our retail customers,” Marc Solomon senior vice president, said in the release. The volume will service clients in the Southwest and Midwest.

Bruce McEvoy, director of global affairs for Seald Sweet International and the UNIVEG Group, is U.S. representative for the South African Citrus Growers Association. McEvoy has facilitated the Houston program.

“Seald Sweet has been an importer of South African summer citrus since the start in 1999, and has been a leader in growing the category,” said Mayda Sotomayor, chief executive officer of Seald Sweet. “This is a next logical step in the expansion of the import-export program from South Africa.”

South African citrus is available June through October. South Africa exports about 42,000 tons annually to the U.S. in containers and refrigerated vessels to the ports of Newark, N.J., and Philadelphia.

The Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum expects exports to Houston will increase in 2015, Conradie said. It’s the largest container port on the Gulf Coast and the seventh largest in the U.S.

“While our export volumes have remained steady in recent years, we envision the potential for greater volumes to the U.S. as demand for our high quality fruit continues to grow,” she said.

Arrival inspections at the Houston port are done by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service.