South Africa’s Top 100 Imported Consumer Products

In 2020, South Africa’s 100 imported consumer products that generated the most spending totaled US$29.9 billion. That dollar amount represents 43.5% of the overall value of all South African imported goods ($68.7 billion).

The 5 most valuable consumer products imported into South Africa during 2020 were processed petroleum oils, phones, cars, medications and computers.

The total dollar amount for South Africa’s top 100 imported consumer products declined by -18.9% from 2019 to 2020, compared to a -22.1% drop for all South African imported goods for the year.

South Africa’s purchases of imported products–both overall and consumer–actually dropped at a much faster pace than the global average decline of -8.2% from 2019 to 2020 for all importing countries.

Among the top 100 consumer products imported by South Africa, 19 increased in total cost from 2019 to 2020 whereas 81 declined.

Changes in South African consumer demand for essential imports offer future opportunities for international suppliers who correctly anticipate which upward or downward trends will continue.

Consumer Products Defined

Economics educator BoyceWire defines a consumer product as a final good or end product that a business creates for consumers to buy. For example, consumers often purchase refined petroleum oil at the gas station while imported crude oil is an intermediate good subject to further processing before being sold to end users.

Although there may be a few wealthy individual buyers, products like turbojets are excluded from the consumer products targeted by this study. That is because turbojets are usually purchased by corporations. In contrast, it is common for a consumer to buy a motorcycle.

Types of Consumer Products

This article focuses on 3 distinct consumer product types.

Convenience Products are easy to access, non-durable, have relatively lower prices and therefore consumers frequently purchase them. Examples of convenience products are food, alcoholic or non-alcoholic drinks, and soap.

Shopping Products are not as easily available, involve more time to make a buying decision, are durable and are not bought as often as most convenience products. A great example of a shopping product is a mobile phone where buying the wrong model is a much more expensive mistake than buying a disappointing loaf of bread.

Specialty Products describe another consumer product type. This grey area includes infrequently purchased, expensive, durable and sometimes rare items. Consumers may consider the product’s brand image when making their purchase decisions. Some examples of speciality products are gold, silver, diamonds, jewelry, and branded refrigerators and dishwashers.

South African Consumer Imports Smart List

The searchable marketing intelligence table below showcases South Africa’s 100 highest-value imported consumer products in descending order. Items were selected at the four-digit Harmonized System tariff classification code level.

The table’s fourth column is labeled YOY for year over year. The fifth column identifies each entry’s consumer product type.

#Imported ProductUS$YOY
1Processed petroleum oils$3,582,135,000-20.4%CP
5Computers, optical readers$1,441,554,000-21.0%SP
6Automobile parts/accessories$1,206,684,000-26.7%SP
7Unused stamps including postage$1,045,179,000-7.5%SP
10Miscellaneous textile items$485,931,000+866.7%SP
11Packaged insecticides, herbicides$476,039,000+10.6%SP
12Printing machinery$472,543,000-30.3%SP
13Rubber tires (new)$471,708,000-27.6%SP
14Gold (unwrought)$439,623,000+33.8%SY
15Electric generating sets, converters$406,193,000-0.4%SY
16Diamonds (unmounted/unset)$395,923,000-29.6%SY
17Electric storage batteries$350,777,000+15.0%SY
18Electrical converters/power units$347,643,000-20.9%SP
19Liquid pumps$329,110,000-18.9%SY
20Palm oil$324,858,000+20.1%CP
21Poultry meat$312,424,000-26.1%CP
22Insulated wire/cable$291,749,000-29.6%SP
23Lower-voltage switches, fuses$284,800,000-14.2%SP
24Sugar (cane or beet)$280,220,000-7.6%CP
25Men's suits (unknit/non-crochet)$278,616,000-16.9%SP
26Nitrogenous fertilizers$275,294,000-8.2%SY
27Footwear (textile)$246,536,000-25.3%SP
28Electric water heaters, hair dryers$245,559,000-13.6%SY
29Footwear (rubber or plastic)$234,903,000-25.0%SP
31Seats (not barber/dentist chairs)$229,240,000-30.8%SP
32Women's clothing (not knit/crochet)$224,899,000-21.2%SP
33Orthopedic appliances$217,999,000-21.6%SP
34Coal, solid fuels made from coal$215,840,000-52.2%CP
35 Dishwashing, clean/dry/fill machines $213,334,000-27.6%SY
36Miscellaneous plastic items$204,283,000-14.9%CP
37Other food preparations$196,480,000-0.2%CP
38Alcohol (including spirits, liqueurs)$191,048,000-37.4%CP
39Refrigerators, freezers$179,506,000-23.4%SY
40T-shirts, vests (knit or crochet)$170,806,000-16.9%SP
41Plastic packing goods, lids, caps$168,505,000-1.1%CP
42Interchangeable hand/machine tools$168,418,000+16.3%SY
43Footwear (leather)$166,924,000-22.5%SP
44Sun/safflower/cotton-seed oil$165,679,000-6.7%CP
45Unrecorded sound media$165,593,000-26.3%SP
46Computer parts, accessories$159,601,000-20.0%SP
47Beauty/makeup/skin care$155,805,000-28.7%SY
48Air conditioners$148,528,000-26.9%SY
49Screws, bolts, washers, hooks, pins$141,502,000-20.2%SP
51Cases, handbags, wallets:$136,906,000-34.2%SP
52Miscellaneous furniture:$130,532,000-31.3%SP
53Hot-rolled iron/non-alloy steel items:$126,402,000+88.5%SP
54Temperature-change machines$123,557,000-35.1%SY
55Other organic cleaning preparations$123,274,000+0.7%CP
56Whole fish (frozen)$120,985,000-28.0%CP
57Miscellaneous iron or steel items$120,358,000-13.8%SP
58Vulcanized rubber items$118,535,000-15.3%SP
59Potassic fertilizers$118,307,000-11.9%SY
60Malt beer$118,187,000-51.3%CP
61Soya-bean oil$116,311,000+65.9%CP
62Sanitary towels, baby napkins/liners$107,463,000-10.7%SP
63Sports equipment$106,110,000-15.6%SP
64Chocolate, other cocoa preparations$105,535,000-4.9%CP
65Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys$103,333,000-36.5%SP
66Fertilizer mixes$103,107,000-20.3%SY
67Jerseys, pullovers (knit or crochet)$102,364,000-18.2%SP
68Furniture base metal mountings$102,306,000-16.3%SP
69Animal guts, bladders, stomachs$98,153,000-18.3%CP
70Fish, caviar (preserved/prepared)$96,686,000-31.0%CP
71Coffee/tea extracts, concentrates$93,888,000+12.6%CP
73Women's clothing (knit or crochet)$92,920,000-6.0%SP
74Waters with added sugar$86,829,000+2.2%CP
75Other pharmaceutical preparations$80,190,000-19.6%SP
76Soap, organic surface-active goods$78,837,000+2.4%SP
77Uncoated paper for writing/printing$77,893,000-42.1%CP
79Video console games, table games$76,170,000-37.4%SP
80Provitamins, vitamins$73,584,000+11.7%CP
81Bread, biscuits, cakes, pastries$72,640,000-12.5%CP
82Fruit and vegetable juices$71,902,000-36.8%CP
83Washing machines$69,615,000-12.8%SY
84Shaving preparations, deodorants$66,861,000-18.6%SP
86Sowing seeds, fruits, spores$63,706,000+30.3%CP
87Printed books, brochures$63,541,000-37.6%SP
88Cigars/cigarellos, cigarettes$62,885,000-38.4%CP
89Vulcanized rubber apparel/accessory$61,961,000+55.7%SP
90Paper containers, cellulose wadding$61,695,000-7.1%SP
91Prepared glues, adhesives$59,959,000-8.6%SP
92Women's underwear (knit/crochet)$58,816,000-20.3%SP
93Lubricant preparations, anti-rust$57,703,000-13.1%SP
94Men's shirts (not knit or crochet)$57,133,000-25.4%SP
95Perfumes, toilet waters$57,010,000-27.4%CP
96Calculators, cash registers, similar$55,778,000-8.6%SP
97Infant clothing (knit or crochet)$55,389,000-2.4%SP
98Concentrated/sweetened milk, cream$55,121,000+21.3%CP
99Plastic wares (table, kitchen, toiletry)$54,877,000-17.8%CP
100Miscellaneous preserved fruits$54,557,000+11.4%CP

The most popular product type is shopping products (SP) led by phones, cars, computers and automobile parts or accessories. Shopping products represent about half (52) of South Africa’s top 100 imported consumer goods.

In second place via 32 entries are convenience products (CP) led by processed petroleum oils, medications and rice.

There were 16 speciality products (SY). Examples of speciality products are South African imports of gold and diamonds.

Durable consumer products are goods like cars, refrigerators and furniture that last a relatively long time. Consumers can put durable products to use again and again. By product type, note that all shopping products and speciality products are considered as durable consumer products.

Non-durable consumer products (ND) are goods that are not re-used once consumed. Alcoholic beverages and bananas are examples of non-durable goods. Convenience products are uniquely non-durable consumer products.

Based on the product types identified in the above table, 68 of South Africa’s highest-value consumer imported products are durable while 32 are classified as non-durable.

You can also peruse the greatest increases or decreases in product values from 2019 to 2020. To do so, click on the heading of the fourth column.

Fastest-Growing Consumer Imports

Listed below are the top 10 consumer products imported into South Africa that experienced the highest percentage increases in spending from 2019 to 2020.

  1. Miscellaneous textile items: Up 866.7% ($485.9 million)
  2. Hot-rolled iron/non-alloy steel items: Up 88.5% ($126.4 million)
  3. Soya-bean oil: Up 65.9% ($116.3 million) 
  4. Vulcanized rubber clothing and accessories: Up 55.7% ($62 million)
  5. Gold: Up 33.8% ($439.6 million)
  6. Sowing seeds, fruits, spores: Up 30.3% ($63.7 million)
  7. Concentrated/sweetened milk, cream: Up 21.3% ($55.1 million)
  8. Rice: Up 20.3% ($541 million)
  9. Palm oil: Up 20.1% ($324.9 million)
  10. Interchangeable hand/machine tools: Up 16.3% ($168.4 million)

Among the above top gainers, 5 items are durable goods that consumers can re-use over time. Drilling down, 3 of the durable items are shopping products that require a comparatively longer time to make a buying decision, while 2 top gainers are periodically purchased speciality items namely gold and interchangeable hand or machine tools.

The fastest-growing convenience products are 5 other goods, ranging from soya bean or palm oil to rice. Consumers typically consider these items as non-durable products commonly referred to as disposable goods and therefore are used only once.

Worst-Declining Consumer Imports

South Africa’s spending on the following 10 items decreased at the greatest pace from 2019 to 2020.

  1. Coal, solid fuels made from coal: Down -52.2% ($215.8 million)
  2. Malt beer: Down -51.3% ($118.2 million)
  3. Cars: Down -45.9% ($2.1 billion)
  4. Uncoated paper for writing/printing: Down -42.1% ($77.9 million)
  5. Cigars, cigarellos, cigarettes: Down -38.4% ($62.9 million)
  6. Printed books, brochures: Down -37.6% ($63.5 million)
  7. Alcohol (including spirits, liqueurs): Down -37.4% ($191 million)
  8. Video console games, table games: Down -37.4% ($76.2 million)
  9. Fruit and vegetable juices: Down -36.8% ($71.9 million)
  10. Models, puzzles, miscellaneous toys: Down -36.5% ($103.3 million)

Six among the South Africa’s top 10 declining imports are non-durable convenience products consumed one time only led by coal, beer and uncoated paper for writing or printing.

The remaining 4 leading import decliners are shopping products that normally require more time for shoppers to make buying decisions. Purchases under the shopping products category are more likely to be deferred than convenience products Examples of these shopping goods are cars, printed books or brochures, video console games and table games, as well as models, puzzles and other miscellaneous toys.

Key Suppliers by Country

This analysis reveals competitive suppliers that target South Africa’s demand for its top 5 consumer import products.

South Africa’s biggest imported consumer product by value is processed petroleum oils. South Africa’s 4 other leading consumer imports are phones, cars, computers, and automobile parts or accessories.

Below, you will find major supplying countries for South Africa’s imported:

Processed petroleum oils: United Arab Emirates (21.1% of total), Oman (17.6%), India (16.6%), Saudi Arabia (11.1%), Netherlands (4.5%), Singapore (4.4%), Malaysia (3.3%), Belgium (3.1%), Italy (2.6%) and Bahrain (2.3%).

Phones: China (63.4% of total), Vietnam (14.5%), India (5.4%), Hong Kong (2.3%), Taiwan (2.1%), Mexico (1.9%), United States (1.7%) and Malaysia (1.6%).

Cars: India (23.1% of total), Germany (21.3%), Japan (13.3%), Spain (7.6%), China (4.4%), United Kingdom (also 4.4%), Romania (3.4%), Slovakia (3.1%), South Korea (2.9%) and United States (also 2.9%).

Computers: China (66.9% of total), Poland (5.7%), Czech Republic (5.5%), United States (4.6%), Germany (2.3%), Thailand (1.9%), Mexico (1.7%), Vietnam (1.4%), Taiwan (1.3%) and Hungary (also 1.3%).

Automobile parts or accessories: Germany (22.7% of total), China (14.7%), United States (11.8%), Thailand (7.5%), Japan (5.7%), India (2.9%), France (also 2.9%), Spain (2.8%), Poland (also 2.8%) and Mexico (2.7%).

See also

More great research: South Africa’s Main Imports by Top Supplier Countries, Australia’s Top 100 Imported Consumer Products, World’s Top 100 Imported Consumer Products, US Top 100 Imported Consumer Products


Independent insights and analysis presented in this article are based on researched facts and statistics sourced from the following educational portals.

BoyceWire, Consumer Goods Definition.

Central Intelligence Agency, The World Factbook: South Africa Economy.

International Trade Centre, Trade Map.

Investopedia, Consumer Goods, Consumer Staples Definition, Fast-Moving Consumer Goods (FMCG).

Trading Economics, South Africa Consumer Spending.

Wikipedia, List of largest consumer markets.

World’s Top Exports, South Africa’s Top 10 Imports.

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