The export path of one organic orange picked from the bountiful orchards of the Sundays River Valley to a chilled glass of orange juice served in a European restaurant or home kitchen, is an intricate path of logistics, processing, and quality assurance.

South Africa remains the second-largest citrus exporter globally, after Spain. A particular well-established citrus market is Europe, which had been importing South African fruit for more than 100 years.

One of Exporters Eastern Cape member companies, SOGA Organic, shared some insights into the “path of one Sundays River orange” as their busy export season commenced.

SOGA Organic Marketing Manager Lize Garrod said the citrus season in South Africa typically runs from April to September.

“Currently all NFC juice volumes (around 2,000 Metric Ton per annum) are contracted and exported to our existing buyers in Europe and Canada,” said Garrod.

But what exactly is NFC juice? To understand the popular citrus export product, we need to go back to the Sundays River Valley orchards.

Sundays Organic Growers Association (SOGA) was formed in 2005, when a group of organic citrus farmers got together to cooperate in research, packing, logistics and marketing to grow and supply superior citrus to customers around the world.

“Currently all SOGA’s fresh produce including lemons, oranges, ruby grapefruit and mandarin are sold to existing markets in Europe and Canada, with Sundays River Citrus Company (SRCC) handling the fresh fruit packing and marketing.”

“SOGA Organic, our own certified organic citrus juice processing plant, was founded in 2012. Fresh fruit not meeting strict export standards is sent to SOGA Organic where we only process fruit from the four SOGA growers to ensure the highest quality and integrity of all our products. We produce and export Not-from-concentrate (NFC) citrus juice to Europe and Canada.”

The typical path of one orange

Fresh fruit from the four SOGA farms in the Sundays River Valley are delivered to SOGA Organic in Kirkwood for juice processing using their JBT juicing machines.

NFC juice is made by juicing the fruit, flash pasteurising it and then freezing it, to lock in all its natural goodness. The water in the juice is from the fruit itself, with nothing else added.

“The drums we use for packaging are high quality 210 litre (200kg) galvanised steel drums. The juice is placed inside two (double layered) 90- and 60-micron plastic bags in the drum and frozen to -18°C ready for shipping. All packaged juice is stored at SOGA Organic and transported to the harbour directly from SOGA Organic,” said Garrod.

The wholesale NFC Juice is transported to the Nelson Mandela Bay harbours with Reefer containers at -18°C.

“From the Ports of PE and Ngqura our wholesale NFC Citrus Juice is exported and shipped to Toronto, Canada, and Rotterdam, Europe (for buyers from The Netherlands and Germany), as well as Gioia Tauro, Sicily.”

In addition to these export markets, SOGA Organic also supplies the South African market with certified organic citrus juice products. In December 2015 SOGA Organic launched their first two frozen orange juice products in a handful of stores.

“Subsequently the company has added a new product every year and SOGA Organic products are now available in over 500 outlets nationwide, including selected national retailers.”

Although SOGA Organic has done a trial order with a wholesale juice buyer in Canada, most of the SOGA Organic retail products are currently only available in South Africa.

Quintin Levey, Exporters Eastern Cape Chairman

The Herald – Let’s Talk Exports – Published June 2024