South African apple and pear producers and exporters need to take note of changes and new opportunities in the markets. They also need to adapt to changing trends and should exploit new opportunities available to them. FarmBiz spoke to Roelf Pienaar, managing director of Tru-Cape Fruit Marketing, and Nina Viljoen, agricultural economist at Hortgro, to get up-to-date information on new markets and trends in the apple and pear industry.  

New markets

“Our market in Europe and even the UK is getting smaller due to higher production in the northern hemisphere, and new technology that has allowed them to extend their season. But with this market getting smaller, it brings new opportunities in other markets,” says Roelf.

“The countries to which we export are very cultivar specific. More than a third of our pears are transported to Europe. A few years ago, we exported almost half of our pears to Europe,” he says. “Over time we had to look for new markets that wanted our pears. We focused particularly on the East and on Russia. Now, more than 80% of our Golden Delicious apples are sold to West African countries.”

Roelf is hopeful that China will open its ports to South African pears and that there will be new opportunities in the Far East. Africa, with its expanding population, also has great potential. Nina specifies that this market will likely look at importing the Forelle pear cultivar.

“Investments are once again being made into the Mexican market,” Nina explains. “This could serve as a new market, especially for South African Golden Delicious apples, and there is hope that it will become a growing market in the future.”

Market preferences

According to Roelf, the colour and size of apples and pears are part of significant trends that play an important role in the market. He says producers will need to learn how to produce what the market wants.

“From a marketing perspective you play according to a set of rules. On the one hand you have preferences from a certain market segment or value chain, but on the other hand you have political factors, such as Brexit and Trump’s import levies, that influence your market. Some countries want smaller fruit while others want bigger fruit; you need to know their different prerequisites,” says Roelf.

Nina explains that every market has its preferences when it comes to apples and pears. “When one looks at the apple market in Africa, there is a clear preference for certain cultivars. Roughly 71% of the total South African Golden Delicious apple exports go into the rest of Africa; of the 71%, approximately 40% is supplied to Nigeria.

“Green apple exports are mainly destined for African countries, and Africa can be further divided into east and west, where cultivar preferences also differ. East Africa prefers bi-coloured apples such as Royal Gala/Gala and Cripps Pink/Pink Lady®, while West Africa focuses more on green varieties. The UK also prefers bi-coloured apples, while Asia and the Far East like the red cultivars, such as Fuji and Royal Gala.”

Seasonal overview

The pome fruit season of 2018/19 will be a challenging one due to weather conditions. Although there was more rain last winter, the drought has not been broken in all production areas. The Langkloof, for example, is still battling with water restrictions and allocated water quantities. Despite this, producers are cautiously optimistic. Current weather conditions indicate that this year’s harvest will have good colour.

Apple exports are expected to be 6% higher than in the previous season. This is mainly attributed to new orchards coming into production, and higher yields. Fruit with better colour and size is expected this season and higher packout percentages are predicted.

Pear exports are estimated to be the same as those of the previous season. This is mainly due to the heatwave in October last year, which affected the Packham’s Triumph cultivar in bloom at the time. Several older pear orchards were also taken out of production in the previous season, and the effect of this is now starting to show. – Ursula Human, FarmBiz