New South Africa sees UK sales of wine and fruit soar

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The Independent Online
'We saw our country tear itself apart in terrible conflict . . . we saw it spurned, outlawed and isolated by the peoples of the world,' President Nelson Mandela told the crowds gathered at his inauguration. 'We feel fulfilled that humanity has taken us back into its bosom.'

In Britain the restoration of South Africa's fortunes has become immediately apparent - and in the most practical way possible. In just one month sales of South African produce, long boycotted as part of anti- apartheid protests, have soared. Turnover of fruit alone rose by pounds 300,000 in the last four weeks.

The Anti-Apartheid Movement has urged supporters to buy South African goods to show support for the new ANC government, and South African wine importers expect the historic political events of 1994 to give a pounds 3.8m boost to the industry this year. The fruit-marketing group, the Cape Organisation, estimates turnover increased by nearly pounds 300,000 in the past month, and Outspan predicts a UK sales rise of 30 per cent this year.

The chairman of the Anti- Apartheid Movement, Bob Hughes MP, said: 'There has been a free and fair non-racial election and I would certainly urge people to buy South African produce without any inhibitions. Our campaign was enormously successful and played a very significant part in the release of Nelson Mandela, which eventually led to a new government being elected.

'We have always paid tribute to the people of South Africa but we certainly believe the boycott we carried to the doors of supermarkets and the high- street banks helped to isolate South Africa.'

South African fruit was one of the main victims of the boycott campaign. Anti-apartheid researchers estimate that between 1985 and 1989 about pounds 44m in sales were lost.

Martin Dunnett, Cape's general manager for marketing in the UK, said that in 1987 the company sold fruit in only eight European countries, compared with 26 this year. 'There is now a certain kudos in buying South African fruit,' he said.

Outspan expected revenue to rise by between pounds 8m and pounds 10m in 1994, and new markets, particularly in Scandinavia, had opened up in recent years.

Supermarkets have also experienced increased sales. Kevin Harris, Safeway's trading director for fresh produce, said: 'Some of our customers are feeling a lot warmer towards South Africa. I am sure they are trying to help the economy of the country by a bit of positive discrimination.'

Safeway's sales of South African fruit were 50 per cent up in Jan-May 1994 on the same period last year. The company estimates that 5 per cent was due directly to the political changes.

Sales of South African wines rose by 400 per cent in Asda stores during a promotion as part of the National Wine Festival in May. An Asda spokeswoman said: 'The huge amount of media coverage and excitement generated by the election has obviously helped. Customers are now looking at South African goods from a completely different point of view.'

Sales of South African wines have soared here since Mr Mandela's release from prison in 1990.

According to Wines of South Africa, which promotes the country's wine industry, sales rose from 190,000 cases in 1990 to 307,000 in 1991. The group aimed to sell one million cases by 1995 but reached that target last year.

In 1994 it expects to increase sales by half a million cases and attributes 20 per cent of the expected increase to political changes. The transformation was complete last year when, during a visit to London, Mr Mandela promoted his country's wine.

At the London Wine Trade Fair at Kensington Olympia last week, South African wine producers had their biggest-ever stall and business was brisk.

Wine producer Simon Barlow said: ''The election of Mr Mandela has been tremendous for us. People who walked past our stall in previous years were stopping this time.'

Mr Rupert Ponsonby, director of Wines of South Africa, said: 'It was not worth having a stall before 1991 because we were like outcasts. With Mr Mandela's election the timing of the fair could not have been better. This is the most exciting time we have ever had.'

The Anti-Apartheid Movement called for economic sanctions against South Africa in 1959. Research showed that during their height, between 1985 and 1989, the market share of South African fruit fell from 11.3 per cent to about 8 per cent.

A drop of over 2 per cent in 1977 was seen as a response to the Soweto uprising. For every extra 1,000 members joining the Anti-Apartheid Movement, UK fruit imports from South Africa dropped by an estimated 0.2 per cent - or pounds 2.9m. The total cost of the boycott between 1985 and 1989 was pounds 25bn.

Economic sanctions were lifted last September at the request of the ANC after plans were drawn up to hold non-racial elections.

(Photograph omitted)