Growers are hard at work harvesting and pressing olives across Mzansi’s olive-growing regions. While it is still too soon to tell, the industry expects the 2021 olive oil harvest to be significantly lower than last year.
“Preliminary indications on the 2021 harvest are that it will be down from 2020,” says Vittoria Jooste, manager of SA Olive.
According to Jooste, however, the quality of extra virgin olive oil will continue to be high as ever in 2021.
While there is no denying that 2020 was a tough year, the industry was relatively unaffected. “In these tumultuous times, South African olive oil producers put their collective shoulder to the wheel and managed to produce 30% more olive oil than in 2019,” confirms Jooste.
As providers of essential services, olive farming activities remained relatively unharmed throughout 2020. As a result, the industry was able to continue normally.
“The industry adhered strictly to health regulations and Covid-19 operational procedures. The South African olive oil industry was relatively unaffected by the pandemic,” Jooste says. “2020 was a year of bumper crops, with production up 30% from the previous year.”
Jooste reports that last year’s production was just over 1,5 million litres.
Export bottlenecks anticipated
Meanwhile, on the international circuit, there is an olive oil consumption boom in China. Some experts believe this boom could hold some opportunities for local producers.
Jooste, on the other hand, says the South African olive industry does not have the necessary scale nor channels to sustain consistent export flows to large global markets.
“Exports from South Africa to China have been increasing. However, the volumes are negligible in comparison to Chinese demand,” she says.
Currently Mzansi’s olive oil exports are directed primarily towards neighbouring countries.
South African extra virgin olive oil production is top quality, Jooste states. Yet, a relatively small volume consumption in China has been increasing steadily over the past 15 to 20 years.
The Chinese demand is driven by price point and not necessarily quality.