The average price of pineapples at the Joburg fresh produce market was more than 200% higher in April this year, compared to the same month last year.
This is due to strong demand from home-brewers, who are resorting to desperate measures amid a continuing ban on buying alcohol.
Peak pineapple season is now over, but despite fewer fruit on the market – and strong demand from exporters – producers believe there should be enough to go around.
Pineapple prices have skyrocketed as South Africans – desperate for booze during lockdown – turn their hand to amateur brewing.
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According to numbers from the Johannesburg market, pineapple prices have more than tripled between April 2019, when it traded at an average price of around R4.96/kg, and April 2020, when it hit R15.72/kg.
In April, pineapples worth more than R14 million were sold at the Johannesburg market – double the amount sold in March.
Joe Mazibuko, the acting CEO of the Joburg market, notes that pineapple prices since the start of the year are 82% higher than in the same period last year, due in part to strong demand from retailers.
“It is suspected that most pineapples went towards the brewing of homemade beer in the face of the closure of bottle stores.”
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Local pineapple production – which peaks in the summer months – is currently starting to decline as temperatures fall across South Africa. Strong export demand could also result in fewer pineapples on the market.
Mark Harris of Langholm Farms in Bathurst, the largest pineapple producer in South Africa, says demand from Western Europe for South African pineapples has been good in recent weeks. Anecdotal reports claim that the coronavirus pandemic has bolstered sales of fruit in parts of Europe as consumers go on a health kick amid the pandemic.
While the lockdown in SA initially disrupted citrus exports, this has since been resolved and exports are now at full capacity, says Fred Visser of the large KwaZulu-Natal pineapple producer Gwanzi Queens.
Producers told Business Insider SA that despite a large spike in demand, there should be enough fruit available for local buyers (and brewers). Still, Harris expects that the current pineapple prices will remain elevated – at least until South Africans get access to proper alcohol again.
Visser says the current boom in pineapples is welcome after tough years for these fruit farmers, where input cost hikes outstripped fruit prices.
Why pineapple beer is so popular
Pineapples are South Africa’s go-to brewing input of choice as yeast, the main organism involved in alcoholic fermentation, lives naturally on pineapple skins. The interaction between the yeast and sugary pineapple pulp can result in a relatively potent buzz.
Adding yeast to the beer can up the alcohol content, but the country’s biggest yeast producer, Anchor, has stopped the sale of its brewer’s yeast following legal advice.
No alcohol sales are currently allowed during the national lockdown.