Pineapple prices boom as SA's home brewers work around booze ban
Here’s what SA’s pineapple industry knows for sure: when the government bans the sale and distribution of alcohol, the nation’s enterprising home brewers cause a spike in the pineapple price.
In the week leading up to President Cyril Ramaphosa’s July 12 announcement that alcohol sales and distribution would be suspended with immediate effect, the average price which retailers paid for a box of 10 pineapples at the country’s municipal fresh produce markets, and directly from farmers, was R80.
On Monday July 13, the morning after the president’s shock announcement, that price shot up to R120. And by last Friday it was around R200, according to Food Lover's Market national head of buying Vito Polera.
That’s a 150% spike.
“There is definitely a shortage of pineapples in the market at the moment and it is quite challenging to meet the demand,” said Polera.
Food Lover's Market spokesperson Mirella Gastaldi said while the price of fresh produce on the municipal fresh produce markets can fluctuate significantly due a variety of market-related factors, “given the significant increase in the cost price of pineapples since July 13, we can only surmise that the president’s announcement of an immediate ban on the sale of alcohol has had an influence on the cost price of pineapples”.
“We have been advised, anecdotally, that the increase in the demand for pineapples is linked to the public using pineapples to make home-brewed pineapple beer during the alcohol sale prohibition,” added Gastaldi.
The unexpected surge in demand for pineapples first happened four months ago when the country went into lockdown level 5, leading to the price shooting up by more than 80% between March and April.
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 pretty potent buzz.
Fred Visser of KwaZulu-Natal pineapple producer Gwanzi Queen Pineapples said the unexpected boom was welcome after many tough, drought-stricken years, when production costs outstripped the prices the industry fetched for their pineapples.
“Right now demand is greater than supply, which is driving up the price, as with any commodity,” he said.
“We have no control over what people are doing with the pineapples they buy, but I’m not complaining about the demand.”
Visser knows all too well that that demand will subside when alcohol sales resume, along with the prices he and other farmers fetch for their prickly produce.
“And when the prices are below cost again, no-one will help us. We’ll have to look after ourselves and our workers.”