South African citrus import volume continues to grow each year.
Kimberly Flores, marketing director with Seald Sweet International, Vero Beach, Fla., said that since the late 1990s, volumes imported into the U.S. market have grown from about 13,000 metric tons to record shipments of more than 60,000 metric tons in 2016.
South African citrus has become established over the past 18 years as a staple produce item in East Coast and Midwest markets during summer and fall periods when domestic citrus is out of season, said Tom Cowan, sales manager with DNE World Fruit, Fort Pierce, Fla., a division of Wonderful Citrus.
DNE expects to see an increase in volume for both the navel and clementine categories.
Projected volume growth from 2016 to 2017 is 15% for mandarins, 7% for navels, 40% for midknights, 11% for cara caras and 26% for star ruby grapefruits, said Suhanra Conradie, CEO of Summer Citrus from South Africa, Citrusdal.
An estimated 2.1 million cartons of navels are expected, along with 600,000 cartons of clementines and 670,000 cartons of midknights from South Africa, said Miles Fraser-Jones, director of global business development with Iselin, N.J.-based Seven Seas Global Produce Network, part of the Tom Lange Family of Cos.
Fraser-Jones said the growing regions of the Western Cape have experienced a very hot and dry summer with very little rainfall.
“This has influenced fruit size, which ultimately affects overall volume, so we can expect that the majority of navels arriving will be on the small side at 64/72/88,” he said.
Shippers have just started to pack navels in the Western Cape and have been experiencing higher than normal instances of the navel splitting, Fraser-Jones said, with up to 20% of the exportable volume affected.
Although the hot, dry weather in South Africa may result in fruit being slightly smaller, the warm weather has helped enhance the sugar levels and the sweetness of the fruit. The shortage of rain is not expected to affect fruit quality.
Chuck Yow, director of U.S. sales and business development of Capesan North America, Gloucester, N.J., said the quality of the fruit will be excellent and the brix levels will also be exemplary, with the first shipment likely to arrive by June 21.
After the first arrival, shipments will follow once every 7 to 10 days throughout the season, which will ensure that fresh product is available through the import season, he said.
“The most important message at this time is the fact that California navels are finishing in June,” Yow said.
Star ruby grapefruit arrivals are expected to start at the end of June.
“The sizing is good, peaking on 35s and 40s,” Yow said. “This should be a very good year for imported grapefruits in terms of quality and demand, and grapefruit should be available without a gap until the end of September,” he said.
Cowan said one of the biggest advantages for retailers offering South African citrus is that they will have a steady volume of supply and consistent quality.
“South African citrus has developed that reputation with many retailers,” he said.