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Frank Döscher of the Elbe-Obst distribution company comments on the apple season

"We really cannot complain about this year"

"The stock reduction is going well and will be finished right before the arrival of the new harvest. Everything seems to be going according to plan," says Frank Döscher, CEO of the Elbe-Obst Vertriebsgesellschaft. Annually, Elbe-Obst produces more than 180,000 tons of apples. The fruit occupies approximately 90% of their acreage. Pears are also an important fruit for them, around 3,000 tons are produced. After the harvest, two thirds of the volumes are stored and then sold according to a schedule. Elbe-Obst VG has been supplying grocery retail, export markets, the convenience-sector and processing industries, since 1994. The distribution company consists of a group of trading companies and the Elbe-Obst Erzeugerorganisation r. V., and together they offer the "firsthand cultivation and sales".

In an interview with FreshPlaza, Döscher told us that the apple sector seems to be normalizing after two inadequate years.

A good year following two bad ones
"The season is going pretty well, prices are normal and that's a huge progress compared to the last two years," said Döscher. In 2014, while they were mid-harvest, Russia declared its embargo against Western produce. Poland, like many other countries, had to find an alternative market for 800,000 tons of apples. Consequently the market was flooded with cheap apples. In the past two years the harvest was good but the prices were generally very low. "Two years with large volumes and enormous supply are now followed by a normal year," explains Döscher. "The markets have found themselves again. This year could have been better but after what we've seen, we really cannot complain."
     Frank Döscher CEO of Elbe-Obst Vertriebsgesellschaft

Döscher urges us to look forward. The most important question is how the coming season will unfold. "Current inspections are looking dramatic. Europe was hit by lots of frost. Luckily, due to irrigation, the losses in the 'Old Country' were not as widespread as they were in, for example, in the South and East of Germany, Belgium and Austria. Apple trees are precisely sprayed with water to protect them from the cold.

"Since we are close to the river Elbe, we have a lot of water available. A great advantage of our location," Döscher explains. The fruit cultivation region "Altes Land" ("Old Country") is characterized by its nutritious ground and a maritime climate. Pomefruit, stone fruit and soft fruit have been cultivated in the glacial valley for over 600 years. Apples are the regions' main product. "Regarding our competition, the main question is how big the loss in Poland was. We are speaking of a whole different league of volumes. The losses could influence all of the European market, we could even run out of apples. We would have market like we did 26 years ago. In the beginning of the 90's, there was an extreme apple shortage which resulted in a year of high prices." 

New varieties in the "Old Country" 
The 'Rockit' Snack apple
 The snack apple "Rockit" is the newest addition. This smaller apple was developed by a breeding program between Australia and New Zealand and even got nominated for the "Fruit Logistica Innovation Award" 2011. "We picked the variety for the first time last fall. Currently we have a promotion going on to see how consumers are reacting to it. The apple is not available in stores yet, since we did not have enough volumes. We are in the middle of the testing phase and are currently analyzing the feedback. We do not have any definitive results yet, those should be available within the next two to three weeks. I can make a prediction though: The customers love it," he gives away. Customers seem to be convinced of the advantages the variety has: the snack apple has a long shelf-life, is ready to eat and not sold in bulks of 2-3 Kilo but only in packages of two or three. The taste is a big factor as well as the fact that the apples can be transported easily. "With this variety we are helping the current trend away from fast food. People are busy all the time but still want to live healthily."

According to Döscher, it is mostly the packaging that still has to be evaluated. The plastic tray is not ideal in terms of environmental friendliness. "Personally, I like to avoid waste. Nowadays, everything is wrapped in foil and packaged, even tomatoes and carrots. As long as there is no radical change of that, that is an important factor as well," said Döscher. However, it needs to be considered that especially snack products like the "Rockit" apple are also sold at gas stations. There it obviously cannot be sold loosely, as the health of the consumers comes first.

Still being tested: varieties with red flesh.

In the area of fruit flesh there's new, red fleshed varieties: ranging from orange, light pink to dark red, many different mutations are available. "We have to find out what we can produce in the Alte Land area," Döscher explains. So far, the red-fleshed varieties have no variety denomination and are tried and tested at the Orcharding Trial-Competency center in York. There they want to find out which varieties can be planted. Another question would be how the consumers react to the different fruit flesh colour. "The consumers like red apples, so the breeders thought: Why not make them red on the inside as well? We always have to look for new ways to be different from one another. At the grocery store, the first question that is asked will be about what products are new. Obviously, it does not work that quickly though. We can't plant and replant our orchards as easily as that," concludes Döscher. It takes five to ten years from the breeding of a new variety and testing it until the consumer can buy it in the store.

For more information:
Frank Döscher
Elbe-Obst Vertriebsgesellschaft mbH
Bassenflether Chaussee 4b
21723 Hollern-Twielenfleth
Telefon +49(0)4141-9531-850
Telefax +49(0)4141-9531-950
e-mail: fdoescher@elbe-obst.de

Publication date: 6/19/2017


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