Slump In Car Exports Spells Soaring Grapefruit Prices

TOKYO (Nikkei)–Lower automobile exports to the U.S. could drive up grapefruit prices in Japan because of fewer trips made by a large ship that transports vehicles to the U.S. and grapefruits back to Japan.

Some 60% of the grapefruits consumed in Japan are grown in the U.S. state of Florida. They are in season now, and account for almost all the grapefruits sold in Japan around this time of year.

U.S. shipping firm Great American Lines Inc.’s Sunbelt Spirit is one of the few vehicle carriers in the world that has refrigerated holds for carrying agricultural products. Because it can carry as much as 10 times more grapefruits than conventional container ships, transport costs are lower. This vessel alone delivers almost a fifth of all Florida grapefruits shipped to Japan.

But the ship’s March voyage was its sole round trip scheduled for this season, which runs from last November to this June, compared with three last season. This is because its main business of carrying Toyota Motor Corp. and other Japanese-made vehicles is struggling due to weak sales in the U.S. As a result, Japanese imports of Florida grapefruits are expected to fall by about 20% in volume terms.

According to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association, Japanese auto exports to the U.S. totaled 58,860 units in February, a 70% drop from the same month a year ago.

Currently, grapefruits are sold for about 80-100 yen each at supermarkets in Tokyo, down about 5% on the year because of the economic downturn. But prices may rise on speculation that Florida grapefruits will be in short supply.

(The Nikkei April 4 morning edition)

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