RSA licensed grapes

South African table grape industry organisation SATI has for some time been exploring ideas on how to best develop the position of South African table grapes in China.

In a postive move, post-Asia Fruit Logistica discussions with Chinese importers and sections of the trade about these plans have been very well received.

SATI said that it was quite possible that pilot programmes for the generic promotion of South African grapes could be introduced in the coming season.

Following the Hong Kong event, SATI chief executive Willem Bestbier, with colleague Clayton Swart, visited China for discussions on a market development programme in major distribution centres, with Swart noting SATI’s plans had been very well received.

'Particularly because we informed those represented about our general plans to further improve the varietal specification we offer in China, as well as the work we are doing in the logistical chain to ensure that we offer the best possible products to the trade and consumers,' he explained.

SATI has in the past clearly stated that expansion in the east, and particularly China, would be increasingly important as South African table grape production increases.

Climatic conditions over the past two years have somewhat slowed down growth in export volumes, but there is no doubt that with conditions improving, this year could see volumes bounce back.

The industry has seen a revolution in the introduction of new, exciting cultivars that are transforming the country’s offer.

Due to tough phytosanitary regulations as well as the length of the sea voyage it is much more difficult to deliver top quality grapes to China than to, for instance, the traditional markets of Europe.This, combined with the fact that China is very discerning in terms of the table grapes it requires, makes the task even more difficult.

“This is why we are placing so much emphasis on the products we ship and how we deal with them in our logistical chain,” Swart outlined. “The members of the Chinese trade we spoke to were very positive and supportive of our efforts and this is a good place to start.”

Swart confirmed that it was still early days as far as promotions in China are concerned. “We will take it one step at a time and it is a longer term project to develop our presence in the east.”

Other South African fruit sectors are also keenly looking for further developments in eastern nations. While table grapes are waiting to achieve access to Vietnam, the citrus sector and avocados are hoping that recent exchanges between the governments of South African and Japan will result in decisions to improve access for citrus and grant entry to avocados.

The table grape industry is also hoping that access to Japan will be extended beyond the old and out-of-fashion Barlinka variety, which after a 40 year battle, was finally admitted in 2011 despite there being hardly any Barlinka left in South Africa.