Despite its large agricultural potential and its significant exports, South Africa exhibits a high discrepancy between the population’s demand and the local production for many food products. This gap must be filled by imports and the country has a large network of food importers and distributors.
An increasing number of companies are looking to export to Africa, as the continent is experiencing rapid development, but the risks and volatility of many of the continent’s regimes can prove to be daunting. An excellent start, in this case, is South Africa, a perfect entry point for the Sub-Saharan region, with a large urban population (56.7 million), strong western ties and solid infrastructure.
The growing middle class and higher-income have also positively impacted South Africa’s imports, which are mainly vegetables, meat, cereals (especially rice) – having an import value of US$88.1 billion worth of goods from around the globe in 2019.
In the last years over 45% of South Africa’s total imports came from Asian countries. European trade partners supplied 31.5% of imported bought by South Africa, while about 12% worth originated from fellow African nations. North American exporters accounted for 7.6% of South Africa’s imports but here we can see a large increase, over 50% in the last years.
Around 2.3% of food imports are coming from Latin America (excluding Mexico) plus the Caribbean and 1.3% shipped from Oceania led by Australia.
South Africa’s top 5 food suppliers are China, United States, Argentina, Germany, United Kingdom.
Import of Cereals
In this category, South Africa’s main imports are wheat, rice, and corn, with an import value of US$986.01 million. The increasing demand for wheat – more than 3 million tons – is rarely covered by the local production, which usually accounts for only half of that amount. The import value of wheat reached almost US$200 million last year.
The Russian Federation was the leading supplier of wheat to South Africa with a share of 29%, followed by Germany, Romania, Czech Republic, and Ukraine, constituting a share value of 17%, 10.2%, 10.1%, and 7.6% respectively.
Corn is the country’s biggest locally-produced crop, being an exported product by South Africa, but the country is also importing. Turkey, India, and Italy were the major suppliers of maize starch with a value of US$842 thousand, US$462 thousand and US$322 thousand respectively.
Rice, also is a top imported product as it’s not produced locally. South Africa imported approx. US$518.8 million worth of rice in 2018. The leading supplier was Thailand, with US$348.45 million, followed by India, with US$132.71 million.
Import of Meat
South Africa’s meat imports reached US$689.23 million in 2018. Namibia was the main supplier of processed meat, constituting 38.5% of all processed meat imports in 2017, followed by Italy, Germany, and Brazil with a share value of 20.4%, 11.6%, and 10.9% respectively.
When it comes to swine, South Africa imported 38.4% of swine products from Germany, followed by 24.9% from Spain and 10.9% from Brazil.
Vegetables and…. sugar
The country saw a rising demand for fresh vegetables and nuts., especially tomatoes, onions, green chilies and other green vegetables. Imports reached US$236.5 million during 2018 and the leading suppliers were India, Nigeria and Germany.
Even though the country was once considered a promising source for the world’s sugar supplies, it now relies on import this product. In 2018, South Africa imported US$434.01million worth of sugar and sugar confectionery. Major suppliers for this product are Thailand, Brazil and France.
Tips for doing business in South Africa:
- South African food importers and distributors really appreciate well-known brands, the opportunities are better for already well established, globally known food brands
- Some of the “hot” categories that showed demand in the last years and increasing attention by food importers and distributors in South Africa – snack foods, ready meals, health foods and organic snacks, premium bottled water, energy drinks and soft drinks
- Once they managed to establish a presence in South Africa, the companies can start to slowly expand to the neighboring countries like Namibia or Zimbabwe
- Meetings with importers can be more informal than in other western countries, sometimes in locations such as coffee shops or restaurants and the dress code is not that strict. A good idea prior to a meeting is to always call before to make sure that all the details are clear
- As the tariffs and regulations change often, companies looking to start exporting here should read the latest developments on the International Trade Administration of South Africa website.
Three food importers from South Africa:
1. Rieses Food Imports
Address: Unit 1, Block A1, East Loop, Montague Park, Plattekloof Road, Montague Gardens, 7441, Cape Town
Phone: +27 (0)21 551 9037
Address: 39 La Rochelle Rd, Springfield, Johannesburg, 2190, South Africa
Phone: +27 71 422 1835
3. Gluckman Trading
Address: Old Trafford No. 2 Isle Of Houghton
To get access to a list of more active food importers from South Africa, you can access one of the BestFoodImporters databases.