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As South African citrus season winds down, WCCPF chief reflects on successes, challenges

ANAHEIM, CA – A year that saw a consistent supply of top-quality citrus shipped to the United States from South Africa was also a challenging one, as demand for the fruit fell short of expectations. But the group in charge of U.S.-bound exports is upbeat about the headway it made in solidifying its place in the market.

Suhanra Conradie, chief executive officer of the Western Cape Citrus Producers Forum, based in Citrusdal, South Africa , said that while it was a very good season with regard to fruit quality, the pull was not there due to a large supply of summer citrus in the market from various sources.

“But with the support of our importers and retailers, we were able to get through a tough season,” she said.

One of the success stories of the season for the forum was a promotion with Walmart, which featured demos at 32 of the retailer’s locations.

“It was great for a store such as Walmart to be so public with its support of South African fruit,” said Ms. Conradie. “We hope to build on this going forward.”

Another success of the season was the forum’s partnership with U.S. Youth Soccer and its sponsorship of the Summer Citrus Soccer Star program, whereby eight youth soccer players from across the United States are recognized for their courage, determination and leadership.

While the market forces that dampened demand were beyond the control of the forum, Ms. Conradie said, “The lesson learned this season is the high-quality fruit that we pack was able to sustain us in a challenging market. The importers were very happy with the quality of the fruit, and growers were able to maintain the discipline that they have established with shipping the fruit.”

Further to the topic of discipline, Ms. Conradie said that the flow of the fruit and the logistics went very smoothly this season. “It was a challenging season, but it became apparent that we really have a well-oiled machine,” she said. “The growers kept to the schedule of shipping a vessel every 10 days, and the retailers and importers knew they could expect that consistent supply. Certain things can’t be helped in a market, but when you take care of things that you can control, then it shows you are organized and disciplined.”