Ireland imports about 95 per cent of its table apples, often from as far away as Chile and New Zealand, where large orchards grow on fertile soil amid sunshine and low wages. In the same vein, every pear sold in Irish supermarkets is grown abroad. But as the climate is changing and consumers are increasingly conscious of sustainability, more shoppers are seeking locally-grown fruit.
Kevin McCann, commercial director at McCann Orchards: “We treat the trees like children. We really want to nourish them and keep them away from harm.”
The McCanns have been growing traditional Irish apple varieties like Bramley at their Armagh orchard since the 1960s. For the past 25 years they have been selling these to retailers, primarily Tesco. Now locally-grown Gala and Golden Delicious apples, along with Conference and QTee pears from the family’s new orchard in Tullyallen, just north of Bettystown, will help fill Tesco shelves.
Apple and pear orchards are hugely helpful in the battle against climate change, said Lorcan Bourke, fresh produce and potato manager at Bord Bia, as they sequester large amounts of carbon-dioxide.
Last year, Bord Bia commissioned a study that found there was a commercial opportunity for locally-grown apples. The main drawback was the time it takes an orchard to mature to get to the point where fruit is available to sell commercially. There is a danger that customers’ tastes can change while a grower is waiting for apple trees to blossom. Ireland is also a high-cost country in which to run a horticulture business, with wages and costs high.
That is why a partnership with a large retailer is necessary. So the McCann family, backed by the Department of Agriculture, approached Tesco. Their orchard grows Gala apples, a cross between Golden Delicious and Kidd’s orange red apples that originated in New Zealand in the 1930s. Known for their sweet, juicy flavour, they are one of world’s most popular eating apples. As part of the two-year deal – worth €2.5 million – between Tesco and McCanns, 3.5 million local apples and pears will be available in Tesco this autumn and winter.
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