Lemons and grapefruit face challenging market conditions in Asia, but the outlook is brighter for oranges, says major distributor

With the South African citrus campaign getting under way in Asia, key distributor-marketer JWM Asia says the industry faces a mix of challenges and opportunities across its core categories.

SouthAfricanlemons JWM Asia

Demand for South African lemons in Asia is expected to pick up in May as supplies of Chinese lemons decline 

Felix Lam, chief operating officer of JWM Asia, said the South African lemon season has got off to a challenging start.

Currently the Asian markets are still occupied with Chinese lemons, which are available at very competitive prices,” he told Asiafruit Magazine. “However, as the volume of Chinese lemons is expected to decline by May, we anticipate stronger demand for South African lemons.”

Hong Kong is one of JWM Asia’s key markets for lemons, and the company launched its Lemonboy brand there with Twente Partners last year, inspired by the rich history of the lemon business in Hong Kong.

“Data from the Hong Kong Tourism Board shows the number of visiting tourists is slowly recovering, and combined with the summer coming, we expect consumption to increase steadily,” he said. 

Turning to grapefruit, China, Japan and Korea are “the traditional three big markets” in Asia, and the deal has been challenging for several seasons, according to Lam.

In China, demand has shifted from Class 1 fruit to lower grades since the fruit is mostly used for processing, he noted. In Japan, demand has softened, but in Korea, there is cautious optimism about the upcoming grapefruit season, he added.

“The Korean market has experienced reduced supply from Israel and the US, so the market is excited to start with South Africa as soon as possible,” explained Lam.

“Added to this, there is no import duty on South African grapefruit until 30 June under the government’s recent tax exemption policy, and this is pointing to a favourable market response.”

“Having said that, the crop is expected to peak on smaller sizes and there are also concerns over possible rejections for mealybugs.”

Prospects look brighter for South African oranges in Asia, with the season expected to kick off on a positive note. “We should benefit from an early finish to the US season and reduced competition from Egyptian oranges due to disruptions in the Red Sea,” noted Lam.

JWM Asia is also excited about the potential for South African oranges in Vietnam, following the recent opening of this market. “Vietnam is one of our fastest-growing sales markets where we have established wide distribution channels, so we are keen to be at the forefront of developing the Vietnam market for South African oranges,” he said.