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Mountain apples: differentiation, quality and brand development

The 5th conference of Fruit production in the Mountain, organized by IRTA in collaboration with the Department of Agriculture, Livestock, Fisheries and Food of the Government of Catalonia, and the support of the City of La Seu d'Urgell and the Regional Council of Urgell was held on October 1st in La Seu d'Urgell (Lleida).

Over 80 participants, who are very involved in the mountain production, which is a complement to the various fruit production options in the plains and a possibility for the development of quality products in the mountain areas, attended the conference from different places.

The first lecture, by Dr. Markus Kelderer, a researcher from the Laimburg Research Center (Laimburg, Italy), showed that, despite not being very important in the total apple production, the mountain production has had a sustained growth in recent years. The province of South Tyrol (Italy) is one of the areas where such production is well established and where it is a productive option with good prospects, given the sustained growth in consumption in the countries of northern Europe, and even in Italy, despite the crisis. The production technology has been refined through research and innovation. However, this type of production presents more risks than the integrated production. It has lower yields but higher prices that are constant over time. To define the varieties that are going to be produced, it is essential to analyze the market to which this type of production is going to be taken.

The second talk was given by Mr. Ramon San Feliu, of the Department of Agriculture of the Generalitat, which spoke about the aid available for the investment of agricultural enterprises under the recently approved new PDR. It's worth noting that apple tree plantations require large investments that range between $30,000 and $40,000 Euro/hectare, and having financial aid with good conditions is very important.

Afterwards, the IRTA researcher and head of the mountain fruit growing, Dr. Ignasi Iglesias, gave an overview of what mountain apple production represented for the territory (mountain) and the product (apple). Regarding the territory, this production generates an additional economic activity that complements the existing activities, revalues it and, eventually, allows populating of many areas that are at risk of depopulation and that have very few options to diversify the existing economic activities.

Regarding the product, he said, Spain has a heavy deficit as it imports 200,000 tons annually, mainly from France and Italy. The country mainly imports branded apples, as is the case with Perlim, Melinda, Val Venosta or Marlene apples. Moreover, it has become clear after 6 years, that both the production and the quality obtained fully validate the project. Catalonia currently has apple orchards in seven counties, with a total of 66 hectares, and a production that is expected to amount to 720 tons this year.

The final roundtable involved a number of experts in the production and marketing of apples and other fresh produce, such as Xavier Navarro, of Supermercats Pujol (Plus Fresc) of Lleida, which focuses on fresh, quality products that are linked to the territory and that producers be paid well for their activity. As an example of this type of production, "Manzanas del Cadi" (Cadi apples) was developed to market the apple produced in the Alt Urgell (in the towns of Adrall and Arfa).

Another speaker, Andrea Erruz of Frutas Erruz (Paracuellos of Jiloca, Zaragoza), who specializes in the production and marketing of traditional varieties of apple and pear with added value, and which has achieved brand recognition for the traditional Green Maiden variety through their Erruz brand, stated that the key for enhancing apples was maintaining a consistent quality, with a branded product and promotion through advertising campaigns in the media.

Mr. Felix Vazquez, from Frutas Vazquez, a company located in Madrid that is considered Spain's finest greengrocers and that is committed to the quality and customer satisfaction with continuous communication of the characteristics and nutritional value of the fruits and vegetables placed on their shelves also spoke at the roundtable.

The final speaker was Mr. Jordi Ametller of the Casa Ametller company, who cited his own production as an example of recovery, focusing on a value bet that targets consumers and their satisfaction. His dream, he said, was leading a food revolution where the origin was at the service of health. A project he began eight years ago with the first fruit shops in Barcelona and that has become a company with a turnover of $120 million Euro a year, 81 stores throughout Catalonia, 1,200 employees, and 3,000 hectares of different crops throughout the peninsula.

In short, all the speakers at the roundtable gave a message regarding consumption and the appreciation of the fruit of a sector that has good prospects if well managed. The goal, they stated, was offering fruit, a key component of the Mediterranean diet, that had a very important growth potential due to the growing concern and awareness that the societies had developed regarding health issues that were largely linked to the consumption of fruit. Consumption depends largely on the degree of consumer satisfaction, linked to an optimal state of maturity, and that is the challenge faced by the entire value chain in the coming years.

Spain has the best soil and climate conditions of the European Union for the production of many horticultural products where Spain is a leader. Offering a product of consistent quality over time, with the right maturation, and taste quality that makes repeat purchases and a good product brand so consumers can identify it at the point of purchase are the goals to be achieved; in addition to a promotion and communication campaign as an unavoidable part of the sales strategy.

The question now is if the productive sector is able to take on these challenges, one of which is knowing how to enhance the future productions of mountain apples, as has been noticeable in the first two years of production, by offering a distinct quality that has to be enhanced by a brand and communication strategy. The final conclusion of the day was that the journey had started and the destination was in the producers' hands.

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