Growing demand for export grapes

Table grape exports will be boosted by the EU’s economic squabbles and increasing health concerns.

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Table grape exports will be boosted by the EU’s economic squabbles and increasing health concerns.

Johan van Niekerk, chairperson of industry body South African Table Grape Industry, said cash-strapped Europeans refrain from eating out and are more inclined to eat at home. They consequently buy more food from supermarkets.

Europeans are also becoming increasingly health conscious to avoid medical expenses. “They therefore buy considerably more fruit, which bodes very well for our industry,” he explained.

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“We normally export some 52 million cartons of table grapes per year of which 65% is exported to Europe and the UK. The economic meltdown, coupled with the unsurpassed quality of our grapes, means we could increase our market share significantly.”

The industry is also making inroads in eastern markets. Some 5% of the harvest was exported to the Far East in 2005, which rose to 18% in 2010. Indications are that normal harvests can be expected from South Africa’s five table grape producing regions.These are the Orange River (Upington) region, the Olifants River (Vredendal), the Berg River (Paarl, Piketberg), Hex River Valley (De Doorns) and the Northern production region (Groblersdal, Marble Hall.)

“The only real risks are excessive rain and hail,” said Van Niekerk. “The vines blossomed normally. The devastating floods along the Orange River had no impact on table grapes since it’s mainly raisin grapes which are planted on the river’s banks.”

Niel Hamman, chair of the Hex Valley Table Grape Association, explained that it’s very early to speculate on the harvest in the valley. “Our vines haven’t started flowering and before they do, it’s impossible to tell what will happen. We’re in a critical period now. Too much rain and heat are equally dangerous and will have a marked impact on grape formation.

“We nevertheless expect a good harvest, and 80% of our grapes are earmarked for the export market. But there is a growing demand for export quality grapes from local supermarkets. Our grapes are usually harvested from one week before Christmas until week 17 in the next year.”

Petra Pieterse, a table grape producer from Groblersdal, said an excellent harvest is expected in the Northern production region. “We aim to harvest 4,4 million cartons this season, compared to last season’s 3,5 million cartons. We export to the UK and Europe with less than 10% to the Middle East, and we’re increasingly exporting to the Far East as well.” – Annelie Coleman

Barring excessive rain or hail, South Africa’s table grape harvest should be normal.