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Louis De Cleene, Devos Group:

"At the pace growers are grubbing Jonagold trees, there could be a shortage within five years"

The Belgian apple market has been difficult for some time. "It no longer surprises anyone that apples aren't doing well," begins Louis De Cleene of the Devos Group. "There's simply too little demand." Yet the trader thinks that might change in the coming years. "Many Jonagold growers have decided to uproot their apple trees. Within five years, there might well be a shortage of these apples. That wouldn't surprise us in the least."

The apple situation - huge supplies with a much-to-be-desired demand - has been unchanged for a while. "Prices, which not only fluctuate wildly, are genuinely ridiculously low. Why that keeps happening? I really have no idea. After all, good-quality, original Belgian Jonagold apples remain some of the best on the market. But we're already at loss-making prices, and that's not improving. It simply isn't a profitable product to grow anymore," Louis continues.

Thus, he is seeing more and more signs that several growers will quit. "Many of them can no longer make ends meet with current prices, so most are uprooting their trees. That's, in fact, happening fairly rapidly. That could result in a more balanced market. Though, it's terrible that it has to come at such a huge financial and emotional cost."

But, this season, there's is a glimmer of hope for apples. "There's a lot of demand from the industry, so it seems plenty of apples are going there," Louis says.

"There's been quite a lot of apples being sent to industry-processing companies in recent months. That paints a fairly hopeful picture heading into the new year."

"For good apples, prices seem to only be falling, but for the industry, prices are decent. Next year, there might be some room in the market again, and prices for retail apples could rise, preferably as much as possible," explains Louis.

Rubis Gold
That is good news for Rubis Gold apples, too. The Devos Group is this variety's exclusive distributor in the Benelux. "We had our first full crop this year. We got 100 tons from trees we only planted very recently. Those look fantastic, and we'll begin marketing them early in the new year. Of course, it's always a guessing game, but we've received many inquiries about these apples from all over the world."

"We work with a controlled supply, so we can, unfortunately, not respond to them all. We choose our partners carefully and want to expand gradually. With Rubis Gold, we want to genuinely win over Northern European consumers to a yellow apple."

"Everywhere they're seen or tasted, they get lots of positive attention," De Cleene says. This variety was nominated for the Innovation Award at Fruit Attraction in Madrid.

Good pear market
The pear market is in a better situation. "Sales are going well, even excellent. We've already loaded more than in other years, which I understand is the case elsewhere too. There have been occasional dips in demand and pricing recently, but, generally, those prices have been pretty good."

Still. with costs as they are, it is not yet a good news story. "Given average prices, margins are actually still too tight, considering growers' increased costs," says Louis. "Growers with smaller pears this season, and there are several, are certainly left with little. Then again, growers with good sizes will make good money."

"We've had nice yields of Early Desire and Queens Forelle too. We decided to harvest Queens Forelle in two batches. We picked the pears that were just about perfectly blushed and well-sized in early September. Those were all spoken for, and their sales are in full swing and running fast. We then waited a week with the second picking because the pears needed some color. These are great to export; their firmness, shape, and flavor hold up well. Some of those, however, still lack programs," Louis concludes.

For more information:
Louis De Cleene
Devos Group 
66 Eugeen Cools Street
3460, Bekkevoort, Belgium
Tel: +32 (0) 167 79 758

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