It is an excellent raisin year for South Africa. Crop volumes are high but not excessive. The rainfall suspected to occur during the drying time of the grapes did not happen. Quality is extraordinary and the yield of Golden Jumbos is higher-than-average.
On the road running parallel to the Orange River, which normally is only frequented by trucks and pickups, you can see strange-looking cars, varicolored limousines of German manufacture such as BMW and Mercedes. The cars are disguised prototype cars which are tested in northern South Africa on rarely frequented roads. At the same time in February, when grapes are dried on the fields and on wooden racks, washed, sorted and packed, the first 20-ton trucks loaded with containers are travelling to the port of Cape Town 800 km away. “3,000 t of raw material have been delivered by the farmers by end of February,” says Edwin Klinkenberg, Partner of The Raisin Company (TRC), Kakamas. “40 containers have already been loaded on ships.” But prior to shipment the raisins must be processed and sorted. One out of four to five 500 kg boxes is completely emptied and sample grapes are taken to check size and color. In this way the price of the raw material is determined according to weight and quality. The dried grapes delivered are classified in three categories: “choice” and “standard” for consumption as snacks, “industrial” for ingredients for bakeries and confectionary manufacturers. The fourth category consists of stems, leaves, foreign material of any kind and is considered “no value”. No value and industrial represent 3-4% of shipments, while “industrial” goods are paid for, “no value” of course not. Klinkenberg says that the raw material must not arrive too late because processing and transportation take time.
What is the difference between raisins from South Africa and other origins? Edwin Klinkenberg, known as “Klink”, says: “Farmers in South Africa cuts the grapes and remove them from the plantation. In most other production countries, the grapes are dried directly on site. They only place paper or plastic sheets on the ground. We dry the grapes on racks or smooth concrete floors to prevent contamination. The grapes lose their moisture in the heat of the sun but are less likely to be damaged by sunburn or birds.” In a normal crop year, the company takes delivery of 5,000 to 6,000 t of raw material; the majority of producers are long-standing partners. TRC also owns plantations but “we are not farmers,” explains Edwin Klinkenberg. “Meanwhile we own a few table grape plantations, but we ask one of our neighbors to harvest the grapes and spread them for drying.” South Africa is booming as a production and export nation for raisins. The US are also an important market for South African raisins. South Africa benefits from the fact that raisins are available from February to early May while the US domestic production starts in September. Another aspect is the price difference amounting to USD700 – 800 in the past crop season, as well as crop volume. While the US produces 300,000 t of raisins per year, South Africa’s crop volume amounts to 50,000 t. 40% of the South African raisin crop is Golden which is a substantial competitive benefit on the markets in Europe, and even the US and South America, leading to a surcharge of USD 200-300.