In 2023, South Africa witnessed a notable 40% decrease in its citrus exports to China compared to the previous season, a phenomenon largely attributed to Europe's insatiable appetite for South African citrus at attractive prices, coupled with a slight dip in citrus production within South Africa.
This season, the reduced supply of South African oranges has led to price hikes of between 15% and 30%, depending on the variety. Weather fluctuations in the growing regions and more enticing price offerings in alternative markets have significantly influenced marketing strategies. Nevertheless, high-quality orange varieties, particularly Cambria and the ever-popular Witkrans oranges, continue to find their way to China, albeit at slightly elevated prices.
Initially, the South African Citrus Growers Association (CGA) had anticipated a citrus export volume of 142 million boxes for the 2022/23 season, representing a 13.9% decline from the previous season's 165 million boxes. However, as the season progressed, forecasts have been revised upwards to 156 million boxes. This adjustment accounts for a modest increase in navel orange production and a reduction of 5 million boxes in Valencia orange production.
South African citrus exports to Europe have witnessed significant growth, accompanied by commensurate price escalations. Conversely, the performance of South African grapefruit in the Chinese market has been suboptimal, with prices falling below desired levels. Chinese fruit merchants displayed a preference for premium navel oranges, with Witkrans and Cambria varieties enjoying particular popularity, albeit at slightly higher prices. Meanwhile, Valencia orange prices have remained stable, ranging from 140 to 180 Chinese yuan (equivalent to USD 19.42 to 24.96) per carton, contingent on variety and appearance.
Despite a 30% increase in the volume of South African mandarins/tangerines exported to China this season, prices have witnessed a dip. Concerning grapefruits, recent reports indicate limited arrivals of South African grapefruit in China, resulting in an overall reduction in grapefruit prices in 2023 compared to the previous year. Sales of grapefruit have also been reportedly sluggish. Various factors, including market dynamics, supply levels, and consumer demand, likely contribute to this scenario. These lower prices and sluggish sales could potentially impact the grapefruit trade in China during this period.
In broader terms, South African citrus exports to Europe have surged by an impressive 50%. However, towards the latter part of the season, many citrus orchards in South Africa have been affected by black spot disease, attributed mainly to heavy rainfall. Consequently, it is anticipated that citrus volumes in the latter part of the season will be redirected towards the Middle East and select Asian markets.
Despite recent adverse weather conditions in Northern China affecting consumption patterns, the overall market performance for imported citrus is showing signs of improvement. Chinese consumers remain inclined to pay a premium for high-quality fruits or novel varieties, often influenced by attractive packaging that enhances their appeal. This resilient market demand underscores the enduring importance of South Africa's citrus industry on the global stage.