This year, the market for overseas top fruit is considerably worse than last year, according to Jan Marc Schulz of SFI. The full stocks of European apples and pears of the harvest of 2018 are playing a role in disappointing demand for imported top fruit and its pricing. “It’s considerably more difficult to sell, at prices that are considerably worse and don’t cover the costs of overseas import.”
Because of market developments, overseas traders are reluctant to export top fruit to Europe. “Prices unfortunately don’t reflect what you’d expect from the volumes,” Jan Marc says.
Apple orchard in New Zealand
It’s the reason the exporters of the southern hemisphere – just like in recent years – are increasingly forced to choose different markets. Chile, for example, exports more and more to Asia. “We have to be careful this doesn’t become a structural problem.” Jan Marc mentions that besides Asia, the US is also still a big market that buys a good amount of product, and Latin America is now also capable of buying a significant amount. For the northern hemisphere, he says China is producing more and more top fruit themselves, so that this market could eventually be lost.
Keeping out unwanted fruit
At the moment, there’s overseas top fruit from New Zealand, Argentina, South Africa and Chile on the market. Regarding quality, the year’s average to good, according to Jan Marc. “We shouldn’t forget the overseas trade is inspected by the KCB upon arrival. So when it doesn’t meet the EU’s standards, it won’t be allowed on the European market. That’s different for fruit grown within the EU, there’s less control on that.” Jan Marc has a clear opinion about this. “The inspections upon arrival are this strict, because as a region with its own production, it’s in the EU’s interest to keep volume from outside the EU out without getting a reputation of being protectionist.”
The importer mentions that the volume of club varieties continues to be limited with the exception of Pink Lady, although a lot of people think club varieties are the future of top fruit. As an example, Jan Marc mentions the Evelina or the Jazz apples that are supplied via one importer per country. He indicates that despite major marketing efforts, the club varieties are often not very visible on the shelves. “Not enough is planted in that case, or it wasn’t successful enough to spread out. It continues to be a niche product. It has to taste well for consumers, as they are the ones deciding what to buy in the end.”
Plenty of choice for consumers?
Jan Marc sees the growing production in Europe as the biggest threat for the import of overseas top fruit. He thinks it’s a shame that retailers mostly choose to put fruit of the European harvest of 2018 on their shelves, so that the choice of buying fresher, overseas product is taken from the consumer. “Consumers now, in June, have the chance of eating an apple harvested on the southern hemisphere in April, but they’re given European apples from ULO cells that were harvested in August or September 2018. It would be desirable if consumers were given a choice in all supermarkets.”
Additionally, Jan Marc mentions that when it comes to food miles, research has shown that long-term storage in ULO cells results in higher carbon footprints than that of ocean transport of import fruit. He thinks politics aren’t realistically responding to that. “Consumers are becoming more and more sensitive to the fact that everything has to be produced domestically without any proof that this is actually better for the world and the climate,” Jan Marc says. It’s his opinion that this is another way to support European growers. “It’s national support and that’s not allowed, but if competitors are put in a poor light due to that manner of reporting, it eventually will work like that.” Yet he remains positive regarding the future of imported top fruit. “There’s still demand and a reason that people want to offer a fresh harvest twice a year rather than once a year.”