A relatively newcomer to the country’s fruit export industry, South African cherries appear to have a bright future ahead

South Africa’s cherry growers are smiling this year. Despite a short crop, and likely a short season, exporters say quality and sizing is excellent, amid increasing demand from international markets.

“Demand is shifting from the UK to the Middle and Far East,” says Calla du Toit, procurement manager at Tru-Cape.

As one of the country’s top cherry exporters and marketers, Tru-Cape and other leading companies such as Dutoit Marketing see great opportunities to grow exports of the fruit, especially while international currencies remain strong against the rand.

“Malaysia, Vietnam and Hong Kong are certainly on the rise as markets for our wonderful cherries,” Du Toit explains. “We get incredible feedback about the quality of South African cherries. According to importers we are well positioned to compete with the Chileans.”

Together, Tru-Cape and Dutoit Marketing have helped to make the Western Cape province, and the town of Ceres in particular, the new capital of South African cherries.

More than half of the country’s cherry orchards are in the aptly named Ceres region. And with more than a million trees now in production across the country, planted area has nearly doubled in the past five years.

“Cherry season is one of the briefest, but also most exciting, in the South African fruit sector,” Du Toit adds.

Complementary crops

Cherries seem to fit in very well with apple and pear farming, since production of the fruit allows producers to utilise resources such as cooling infrastructure or off-loading facilities when they would otherwise not be used.

According to Du Toit, Tru-Cape’s apple exports to Vietnam have grown exponentially over the past few years. “This creates excellent opportunities for the company’s cherries, as retailers prefer to procure a basket of products from the same source,” he notes.

There remains plenty of untapped potential, it would seem. According to Du Toit, between 70 and 80 per cent of South Africa’s cherry crop is sold inside the country. As a result, there may be opportunities to extend availability for local retailers by using better storage technology.

Nico Verhoef, director at Witzenberg Properties, says the market is stable and prices are on average R10 to R20 per kg better than the previous season. “Local and international demand is also good,” he says.