South Africa Seedless Grape Exports Surge as Consumers Shun Pips

South Africa’s table grape farmers are switching to seedless varieties, with exports more than doubling over 5 years as consumer demand for the seeded varieties slump.

Since 2005 demand for seedless table grapes from overseas customers has grown, according to Abie Loubser, a marketing officer at Hex River Valley-based AS Viljoen & Seuns Boerdery (Edms) Bpk, which is 120 kilometers (74.6 miles) northeast of Cape Town.

“The consumers overseas dictate what we should plant and have changed their taste to seedless varieties making a lot of older seeded varieties obsolete and in need of replant: at great cost,” Loubser said in an e-mailed response to questions on April 24.

Exports of black seedless grapes increased to 482 million cartons last year compared with 195 million cartons in 2010, according to the South African Table Grape Industry, a Western Cape Province-based company that collates table grape statistics. All varieties of seeded grapes have shown a decline in production since 2010 as demand fell, it said. South Africa is the continent’s largest exporter of table grapes and the world’s 10th-largest producer of the fruit, according to data on the Index Mundi website.

We “are doing well on export side with the new seedless varieties,” he said. “The older varieties that still have seeds in them have experienced price stagnation internationally and have therefore not kept up with the cost of producing them.”

Africa, Russia

Seedless grapes from the Northern Cape province that were planted since 2005 are now being exported to the Middle East and southern Europe already, Loubser said. These were farmers who started planting early and are now in a good position to build sustainable farming operations, he said.

Planting of table grapes increased 4 percent between 2012 and 2014 to 16,229 hectares (40,102 acres) due to demand for exports, data from the SATGI website shows. Table grape growers only sell 10 percent of the fruit locally, while 90 percent is exported.

“The demand for table grapes in the local market has decreased since the 2011 season,” Rhomona Gounden, communications officer at SATGI said in an e-mailed response to questions April 30. “This can be attributed to the better returns and earnings farmers are receiving from exporting their produce.”

There are still markets that prefer seeded grapes, she said. Africa, the Far East as well as Russia have seen an increase in demand for red seeded grapes in 2014, even though overall demand for seeded grapes continues to decline. In 2010, South Africa had 416 table grape producers and in 2014, this number dropped to 326 as companies and farmers combined their operations.

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