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South African growers of summer citrus bound for the United States have signaled their intention to aggressively market their products in the Midwest and the West Coast for the first time and are expecting to raise the value of their exports to the United States to $500 million in 2010.

"We are delighted to be able to announce this expansion of our marketing efforts for 2010," Gerrit van der Merwe, chairman of the Western Cape Citrus Producers' Forum, said in a Jan.26 press release. The Western Cape organization (www.summercitrus.com) promotes orderly marketing and promotion of South African citrus fruit in the United States on behalf of the more than 350 growers it represents.

According to Mr. Van der Merwe, South Africa sold 20 percent of its fruit on the West Coast and 15 percent in the Midwest states in the summer of 2009. "This year we will be aggressively marketing our products in these regions to increase sales there to 50 percent of our total U.S. sales," he said in the release. "This will be done by taking market share away from other Southern Hemisphere competitors and introducing innovations in our supply chain which will benefit both the U.S. trade and consumers."

According to Mr. Van der Merwe, South African growers started reaping the benefits of expanding to the Midwest and West Coast regions in 2009. "Despite increased competition from Chile and the tougher economic climate, we did well, and this is entirely due to our marketing presence across the United States."

The South African industry will not shy away from competition; rather it will take on its Southern Hemisphere competitors by delivering better products and giving the kind of service to the U.S. trade that will contribute to expanding sales, the release said.

"During 2009, we showed again that we can consistently deliver fruit of the highest quality throughout the season. This in turn continues to strengthen our relationships with the leading retailers who are increasingly doing direct business with our growers," Mr. Van der Merwe said in the release. South Africa is expected to export around 50,000 tons of citrus to the United States this year. "This will enable us to grow our business by 20 percent in the Midwest and on the West Coast. This will contribute an additional $85 million to the rural economy of South Africa, where we have a huge community of people depending on the citrus industry for their livelihood."

Mr. van der Merwe said that the Western Cape Citrus Producers' Forum constantly looks at all aspects of the supply chain to ensure that it is both cost effective and as efficient as possible, to the benefit of growers and their customers.

New initiatives in 2010 to support the export program to the United States include the option of using smaller conventional reefer vessels and ensuring a more efficient container program.

"In a significant move and with the support” of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Animal & Plant Health Inspection Service, “the cold sterile protocol for 2010 has been reduced” to 22 days from 24 days, according to the release. “This will further enhance the quality of our fruit. We are totally committed to the USDA's protocols, and we want to acknowledge both the USDA and APHIS support in making this export program possible."

Mr. Van der Merwe said that there is a mood of optimism among the South African growers who pack their fruit for the U.S. market. "Growers are investing in new orchards specifically for this market, and they are planting new high-value cultivars such as Valley Gold oranges to sustain product availability toward the later summer season,” he said in the release. “Also, there is a possibility that we will be able to export pigmented grapefruit from the Orange River region this season that will further bolster our product range."

The expansion of the export program to the United States has a positive impact beyond existing growers and those who work for them. "Fourteen partnership projects where farmworkers have become co-owners form part of the export program,” Mr. Van der Merwe said in the release. “An additional three projects are now in the process of development. These programs make a crucial contribution to the transformation of South African society in our new democracy."

Mr. Van der Merwe noted that the South African industry is investing among the youth in the United States The Western Cape Citrus Producers' Forum “has been sponsoring youth soccer tournaments in the U.S. since 2008. This year our role has added significance because South Africa is opening its doors to welcome the world for the 2010 Soccer World Cup,” he concluded in the release. “We welcome all U.S. citizens who travel to our country for this major event. We hope they can also visit our growing regions where we specially select and pack our citrus fruit for the U.S. market."