Table grapes yet to experience full impact of COVID-19

Table grapes yet to experience full impact of COVID-19
According to a table grape producer the decline in tourism in the US and Europe over December and January due to COVID-19 restrictions could have an impact on demand for table grapes in some of South Africa’s main export markets for this fruit. Photo: FW Archive
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Limited marketing opportunities for secondary fruit can be a big challenge for table grape producers this season, according to Francois Rossouw, managing director of Mooigezicht Estates near De Doorns.

The aftermath of COVID-19 lockdown regulations was largely to blame, he said, explaining that the catering industry, an important market for table grapes that did not meet export or retail standards, had not yet recovered, while activities at large wholesale markets had also been subdued.

“This limits producers to a large extent to supermarket programmes, and this puts a lot of pressure on [them] to ensure that the products they deliver are of top quality.” Fortunately, the quality of the crop was very good due to favourable weather conditions. However, Rossouw stressed that the outcome of the crop still depended on critical factors such as weather conditions before and during harvesting.

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He also expressed concern about the decline in tourism in the US and Europe due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“Tourism plays a major role in the consumption of table grapes in these countries, but currently the streets are empty.” He added that the restrictions, especially in the UK, one of South Africa’s largest markets, also placed a big damper on consumers’ purchasing power.

He also expected prices to come under pressure this season due to a larger harvest compared with last year.

The South African Table Grape Industry’s (SATI) crop estimate indicated volumes of between 65 million and 69,8 million 4,5kg-equivalent cartons. Last year, actual packed table grape volumes amounted to 66,15 million cartons.

Rossouw added that during the previous season the industry only experienced the impact of the pandemic from April.

“This season, we will be experiencing the full effect of COVID-19 and everything that goes with it.”

However, he foresaw some opportunities for South Africa’s table grapes in China, following the recent tariffs imposed by China on imports of wine from Australia. “It could potentially spill over into other imported products, such as table grapes.”

SATI told Farmer’s Weekly that the Asian markets, especially China, presented many opportunities for South African table grapes, as consumers here included fresh fruit in their daily diets.

“We are launching a R4 million China Market Development Campaign in the 2020/2021 season, which will focus on promoting South African table grapes in two of China’s big wholesale markets, and retail shops in some of the big Chinese Tier 1 cities,” said Clayton Swart, SATI’s communications manager.

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