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South Africa’s Apple and Pear Exports to China Show Countertrend Growth

Due to adverse weather events like hail and floods earlier in the year, Hortgro has revised its export forecasts for the 2023 season. The estimated export volume for apples is 40.883 million cartons (12.5 kilograms per carton), showing a 10% decline compared to the 2022 season, with a reduction of approximately 4.375 million cartons. The pear export forecast is 17.195 million cartons, indicating a 19% decrease, with 4 million cartons fewer than the previous season.

In November and December of 2022, the main apple and pear-producing regions in South Africa experienced severe hailstorms. The Langkloof region experienced another hailstorm in March of this year, affecting both the quantity and quality of pears. Additionally, in June, the Western Cape province experienced heavy rainfall and strong winds. Luckily, by this time the apple and pear harvests were finished and all the fruit was in cold stores.

Among various apple varieties, there are significant reductions expected in the export volumes of Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Braeburn and Cripps Pink, with year-on-year decreases of 24%, 19%, 18% and 17%, respectively. Fuji apple exports, the most popular cultivar exported to China, are projected to decrease by 12%, reaching 3.953 million cartons. Regarding pear exports, South Africa’s major producing varieties, Packham’s Triumph and Forelle, are expected to witness declines of 8% and 15%, respectively. The Cheeky variety, which has been significantly imported by China, is estimated to have an export volume of 581,000 cartons, representing a 21% decrease from the previous season. Except for the Celina and Sempre varieties, the exports of other pear varieties are expected to decline to varying degrees, with the Doyenne Du Comice variety experiencing the most significant drop of 54%.

Based on Hortgro’s export statistics, as of week 29, the total number of apples inspected for export was 31.264 million cartons, reflecting a 3% decrease compared to the same period last year. Regarding Royal Gala/Gala apples that have passed inspection, the quantity increased by 4% over the same period last year. Among all the varieties, Golden Delicious experienced the most significant drop, decreasing by 19%.

The total number of pears inspected for export was 14.784 million cartons in week 29, which represents a 13% decrease compared to the same period last year. Among the main export varieties, Packham’s Triumph showed a 6% increase, while Forelle decreased by 8% and Vermont Beauty underwent a substantial drop of 17%.

Despite the overall decline in South Africa’s apple and pear exports to the global market, exports to the Chinese market have experienced a countertrend increase. According to Hortgro’s data, exports of South African apples to mainland China reached 1.038 million cartons in week 29, marking a significant increase of 20% compared to the same period last year. Among all varieties, the export volume of Fuji apples ranked first, reaching 581,000 cartons, representing a 10% year-on-year increase.

South Africa delivered its first-ever pear shipment to China in August 2022. The export volume of South African pears to mainland China in 2023 reached 180,000 cartons in week 29, equivalent to approximately 2,250 metric tons―four times the export volume of the previous year. Currently, the main pear varieties exported from South Africa to China include Forelle, Cheeky, Packham’s Triumph, Abate Fetel and Celina, with Forelle enjoying the largest export volume.

During this period, South Africa’s exports to Hong Kong also grew rapidly. The apple exports to Hong Kong reached 435,000 cartons, up by 82% over the same period last year. The Royal Gala/Gala apples had the largest export volume of 178,000 cartons, showing a remarkable growth of 210% year-on-year, while the late-season variety Cripps Red/Joya® achieved an astonishing increase of 12.4 times. South Africa’s pear exports to Hong Kong also experienced a substantial increase of 60%, totalling 215,000 cartons by week 29. The Cheeky variety had an exceptional export volume increase of 970%.

Customs statistics show that in 2021, South Africa became China’s second-largest apple supplier after New Zealand, with export volume reaching 12,300 metric tons, corresponding to a remarkable year-on-year increase of 64%. In 2022, South Africa’s apple exports to China further grew to 17,200 metric tons, representing a 40.98% year-on-year increase and accounting for 18.01% of China’s total apple imports. South Africa’s apple harvesting season is opposite to China’s, occurring from January to May, with the peak supply in June. The advantage of off-season supply has been driving a steady increase in South Africa’s apple exports to China in recent years.

South African pears can be exported throughout the year, thanks to the utilization of advanced controlled atmosphere technologies and cold storage facilities. Among all the pear varieties exported to China, Forelle is the most popular. It has green skin with a red blush alongside a sweet and crisp texture. Packham’s Triumph pears are also highly favoured in China. They have a round shape, crispy texture, bright green to pale yellow skin when fully ripe, white, and juicy flesh, along with a delightful, sweet taste.

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