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Half of kiwis sold at Jhb market go across the border

Locally-grown green kiwis coining it as South Africa waits for last from Europe

The kiwi shortage that South Africa and its neighbors experience this time of the year could be a thing of the past when Chilean kiwis receive import approval, which the industry expects could be within six months or a year.

Right: Kiwis from the Eastern Cape at the Johannesburg municipal market.

At the Johannesburg municipal market, prices for locally-grown kiwis are "through the roof", says Alex Christodolides of GROW BothaRoodt agency. "The prices are ridiculous – we're selling at R750 [37.6 euros] for a 10kg box, and we can't keep up with demand." Normally, 3kg trays would sell for R120 (6 euros); now it's going for R225 (11.3 euros), he says. "The reason is the huge break between the last of the green kiwis from Europe and the first kiwis from New Zealand. It's going phenomenally for the few green kiwi growers left in South Africa."

Wellington-based Star South Fruits Pty Ltd imports kiwifruit for twelve months of the year. They are one of two Zespri licensees in the country. "We don't bring in a Zespri class 1 due to competing demand from other parts of the world with stronger currencies than ours," notes Miecké Wessels-Cloete who heads up Star South's kiwi division. "Compared to Euro and Dollar markets, South Africa presents relatively lower purchasing power. You wouldn't say we're bringing in class 2 though: it's just, unlike class 1 which comes in 3.3kg trays, these come in 6kg loose cartons, and it's not as round. We prefer the smaller sizes, which other markets don't want."

European kiwi imports are class 1 product. South Africa is still more focused on prepacking than on loose kiwi sales, she observes, for which small counts are suitable. South African retail has not yet moved away from packaging to the extent that European retail has, in part deterred by the high risk of food wastage resulting from loose fruit from being handled by shoppers.

"This year I took a chance with the last two containers arriving by the middle of May – it's the latest I've ever brought in kiwis from Europe," she says. As it is, there will then still be a gap of around four weeks before Star South starts bringing in Zespri Vita Green Hayward and Zespri™️ Vita SunGold™️ kiwifruit.

Globally, she remarks, the SunGold™️ kiwi from New Zealand outperforms the green kiwi.

South Africa high-risk import destination
Wessels-Cloete remarks that South Africa is the only country with so much green Hayward fruit still on its allocation; the rest of the world want the SunGold™️ kiwi. Green kiwis compose 65% of the Zespri fruit they import from June until November.

The European import season restarts in December (until May).

Inefficiencies at South African ports – Cape Town, specifically – mark South Africa as a high risk destination: last season she was waiting for Zespri kiwis on a vessel from Tauranga which omitted Cape Town, sailed on to Walvis Bay in Namibia, and only on its return leg could the kiwis be unloaded in Cape Town after almost 92 days on the water.

"And would you believe it: the quality was 100%!" she laughs, adding that in her experience, the shelf life of Zespri's SunGold™️ kiwis surpasses other golden kiwi varieties. She organizes SunGold™️ kiwi supermarket promotions to stimulates the appetite, noting that SunGold™️ imports have grown by 10 to 12% every year over seven years.

She observes that South Africans haven't yet discovered that the golden kiwi is not just another version of the green kiwi. "A green kiwi is primarily for the slice and dice sector, it's what you put into your smoothie, while a golden kiwi is the ideal snack, perfect to include in a lunchbox."

Christodolides is sceptical of the rapid expansion in golden kiwi orchards in South Africa. "I've been selling kiwis for forty years, and the gold has never taken off, it's maybe 5% of what we sell."

Bulk of wholesale kiwis for Africa
It is a surprising fact that a significant amount of the green kiwifruit at the Johannesburg municipal market are bought by buyers from other African countries.

"Fifty percent of what we sell here, if not more, is going to Africa: Zimbabwe, Zambia," explains Christodolides. "They're the ones looking for it, and then it's also the catering industry, but the bulk is for Africa."

Star South also re-exports a fair bit of kiwis to Kenya and Uganda by air, riding on the back of their strong grape business in those countries. "Every week we load a few pallets of kiwis for them, and we see that cross-border kiwi sales are astronomical in Johannesburg."

For more information:
Miecké Wessels-Cloete
Star South Fruits Pty Ltd
Tel: +27 21 864 3655
Email: [email protected]

Alex Christodolides
GROW BothaRoodt
Tel: +27 82 455 1243
Email: [email protected]