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The global apple market is facing significant challenges in different regions. In the Netherlands, the expansion of Polish apple exports has resulted in sluggish sales, which has led to the need to sell at low prices. Meanwhile, in Belgium, consumers are shifting to cheaper options as inflation rises, leading to a drop in the consumption of more expensive apple varieties. Turkey is facing significant logistical challenges for apples after an earthquake caused damage to the country's port. New Zealand has also been hit by disaster in the form of Cyclone Gabrielle, which has wiped out many apple orchards, potentially causing millions worth of damage to the apple industry. On a smaller scale, South Africa is facing a reduction in supplies of apples due to unexpected hail events that caused significant damage in various areas, leading to a constrained supply of large apples. In contrast, the apple season in Michigan in the US has seen record production, and there is an excellent availability of Gala, Fuji, Reds, Golds, and Ambrosia. Finally, in Argentina, the volume of apple exports has fallen year on year, with production levels at the lowest levels of recent years.

The Netherlands: Tough apple market
The Dutch apple market is struggling. With the expansion of Polish apple exports, sales of Dutch apples have largely become a domestic affair. "I still don't think there are even too many Elstar apples, but quality problems continue to hang over the market. As a result, there is a lot of need to sell. Prices for the really good Elstar are around half a euro. That is still below the level at which they were bought on the wood, but there are costs added to that. At the same time, I see it looking a lot sunnier for the longer term - when we get past March - but then you have to have really good apples," said a Dutch fruit trader

Belgium: Consumption of apples increasingly lacking
Price is winning out over quality towards the end of the Belgian apple season. "The situation is of course generally known, but due to inflation we see that people are increasingly looking for cheaper options. There is a shift from more expensive (club) varieties to apples like Jonagold," said a trader.

Still, this does not mean we are already shifting towards a positive apple market. "Prices are starting to improve, but consumption leaves something to be desired. Whereas 20 years ago consumption was 12 kg per capita, today it is even lower than was already thought at 6.8 kg. Indeed, European stocks are not such that prices should be bad. With the situation 20 years ago, we would be having a good season now."

Towards the end of the season, therefore, the winners may well be the cheaper apples. "After all, qualitatively they also just look good. You always have an expectation when you open the cell, but it didn't disappoint me. They can still surprise. Jonagold and Golden are apples coming towards the end of the season. Last year this was a disadvantage because of the geopolitical situation, but this year everything should be able to be sold with the current stocks."

France: Lower stocks and exports sales of French apples
In France, the year 2023 started with relatively low apple stocks. On 1 January, the European stock was 6% below the volumes of other years. In France, there is a 7% drop compared to the previous campaign and 9% compared to the average of the last three years.

Relatively low stocks should lead to a more 'serene' second half of the campaign for French producers. In terms of trade, although supply is reduced, demand is not very dynamic. Sales in France are relatively stable, on the other hand, as there has been a drop in export sales which amounted to -12% at the beginning of February. This decline is certainly linked to the poorer conservation of apples compared to other years, due to the extreme conditions of this summer.  

Although consumption is relative, over the first part of the campaign, we can still see an increase of 3% in sales volumes compared to last year over the same period (August - end of December) but a drop of 6.5% compared to the average of the last 3 years. This year, the average retail price is 2.01 euros, all distribution channels and all varieties combined, down by 7% compared to last year, despite cost increases. The prices on the shelves are very high, while producers are not getting a fair price for their apples. That said, some retailers have played the game and there has been a slight increase in the price paid to producers since mid-January.

The reason for the lower average price is the big differences between the call price for apples on promotion or in bags and the price on the shelf. In addition, the bag of apples is increasingly favoured by the consumer under financial constraints. In 2018-2019, pre-packed apples represented 36% of purchases. In 2019-2020, it reached 39% and today it represents 43%. We can see that there is a higher turnover in the volume of apples in bags than for apples at the bottom of the shelf, which are more upmarket and more expensive. This indicates that consumers are increasingly looking for a better price.

Germany: Domestic supply dominates market
Domestic supply is currently dominating the market, specifically lstar, Jonagold, Braeburn and Boskoop. From Italy, Granny Smith, Pink Lady and Golden Delicious are entering the market. France participated mainly with the club varieties Pink Lady and Jazz. Dutch, Belgian and Polish inflows only had a local supplementary character and did not play a major role. The first overseas parties will arrive soon. Overall, the supply had become slightly limited, but demand could still be satisfied without any effort. In southern Germany the Gala season will approximately end late April, Elstar volumes will be sufficient until May-June. The Jonagold varieties from last year’s season will last until the start of the new harvest.

Austria: Sales of apples increase compared to last year
All in all, about 5% more Austrian apples were sold in December compared to the corresponding period of the previous year. Over the Christmas holidays, sales even increased by a quarter. However, if one takes into account the 4% weaker wholesale price of 0.95 EUR/kg compared to the previous year combined with the current cost increases, there is not much left of the increase in sales. The domestic AMA stock for dessert apples was 88,148 t (organic & organic) on 1 December, 8% below the previous month's level and 17% above December of last year.

Poland: Positive prospects for apples season despite labour challenges
By now, all of the apples have been harvested, but getting the required labour was a challenge. That said, the level of sales is good. There have been no issues from a logistical standpoint. The little delays that containers and vessels have, are of no consequence to the fruit quality of the produce that is being shipped. The Egyptian market is almost completely closed in comparison to the previous seasons. It’s expected that the quality of the apples that are still in cold storage will allow Polish exporters to send apples to remote markets in Asia.

Italy: Lowest apple stocks in years, season expected to finish early
The situation in the apple sector in Italy on 1st February 2023 is very similar to the previous month, with regular de-stocking and much lower than average stocks for many varieties. Total stocks for apples are at 961,955 tons, the lowest in recent years. This is reported by Assomela.

For Golden Delicious, almost 40 per cent of the total harvest was sold and stocks were among the lowest ever recorded, at less than 330,000 tons. Gala sales proceeded smoothly in all Italian regions with current total stocks 33 per cent lower than last year's; for this variety, the season is expected to close earlier than last year.

Good de-stocking levels also for the other varieties, among which Fuji stands out with sales in January approaching 25,000 tons. Sales are also in line with de-stocking plans for the other cultivars, both traditional and new ones, for some of which positive development is expected in the second half of the season.

Overseas sales are registering excellent volumes, especially in the Middle East and Central/South America. The development of the Indian market, which is active at this time of the season, is being evaluated. If the European market does not seem to be particularly dynamic, good performances are nevertheless being recorded for Spain, which is showing itself to be receptive. A good recovery is also noted in the Italian market.

Production for the Southern Hemisphere producing countries is expected to increase slightly (+5%) and should settle at just over 5 million tonnes. Export forecasts are growing compared to previous years, but with a much lower share of product destined for the European market. This could be an excellent opportunity for Italian producers to maintain their strong positions in Italy and in the rest of Europe.

Spain: Apple prices higher than last season but lower than average
The Golden apple prices in week 5 kept throughout week, although to a lesser extent than the previous week (1% at origin and 2% after being packed). Prices are above previous campaigns: 46% more than last season at origin and 26% compared to average; while at the packing station the prices are 33% higher than the last campaign and 24% higher than the average. As for the Fuji apple, nothing changed in the week 5 at origin, while once again it falls slightly after being packed (-1%). This week's prices, like the campaign averages, continue to be higher than last season but lower than the average. Royal Gala apples prices increased 2% this week at origin, while at the packing station it dropped 3%. This week's quotes and campaign media are above previous campaigns.

Turkey: Logistical challenges for apples after earthquake
As there will be fewer volumes of good quality apples available in the coming months, prices are expected to increase. The price for Turkish apples had remained the same until February started. However, once February got going, price started to increase, as good quality apples became harder to find. This trend is expected to continue over the coming months and good quality apples will become rather expensive. The earthquake is a huge disaster for Turkey and they still face massive problems because of what happened. İskenderun port was one of the biggest ports in Turkey and it is totally out of order right now. Thousands of containers were burned in port. Especially local transport has become a big problem and challenge.

South Africa: Unexpected hail events reduce supplies of apples
The apple season has had a rather dramatic start: in the Witzenberg mountains outside where four separate hail events totally outside their rainfall season led to major damage in that area, to the extent that some producers in the Witzenberg Valley will send all of their apples for processing this season.

The losses in the Ceres area are estimated at many thousands of tonnes, plus localised hail in Grabouw and in the Langkloof, and for the moment the apple export estimate is 5% down on last year, just over 43 million 12.5 kg cartons, lower than the previous two years.

Exports since the start of the year have been Cripps Red and Golden Delicious from last year’s harvest to mostly Africa (there was more carry-over stock) and new-season Royal Galas and Panorama Golden.

As a result of the hail, the supply of large apples from these areas will be constrained. “There could be less big fruit available for places like Vietnam and I expect that prices for bigger-sized fruit will be better this year because of supply and demand,” an apple marketer opines.

On the other hand, as a result of the heatwave in Europe the requests for apples from the UK and Europe have started coming in more than two months earlier than usual, another exporter says, especially for Royal Gala from the UK in their case.

“Late season apple varieties such as Cripps Pink/Pink Lady® and Cripps Red/Joya® are expected to increase,” says industry body Hortgro. “This is due to newer cultivar strains with better yields and packouts being planted in recent years.”

Domestically, apples cost R8.60 per kilogram, becoming less expensive as volumes increase. Marginal counts can no longer afford to be exported due to shipping costs, oversupplying the local market to a degree.

The port of Cape Town has been windbound for three days this week and exports are a few days behind schedule.

North America: Varied apple season from coast to coast
Washington state, the largest apple growing state in the US is faced with a short 2022-2023 apple crop. Production is expected to be about 100 million boxes, which is roughly 20 percent down from about 121-122 million boxes last year. As a result, the import apple season has started earlier. One Washington shipper says fruit is already on the water from Chile. While the import season starts generally April-May, this year it’s March to early April. Imports are largely coming from Chile while other countries such as New Zealand are not sending as much as they used to.

On varietals, Honeycrisp supplies are significantly down. There are plenty of small galas in the pipeline--however large Gala supplies are tighter. There are also a lot of large Fujis in the U.S. but a lack of small Fujis in Washington and the same goes for Granny Smith. A large number of Pink Lady imports are anticipated given the shorter crop of Pinks and some condition issues due to the late harvest. 

On demand, strong demand in the fall also impacted overall supplies. “However, the prices have also been raised and we’ve seen overall slower movement.” 

Michigan in the Midwest together with the Northeast grow about 20 percent of the country’s apple crop. This season, Michigan has a record crop and production of all varieties was up. Supplies of almost all varieties are still ample with excellent availability of Gala, Fuji, Reds, Golds, and Ambrosia,” a Michigan shipper says. The state is almost finished with Honeycrisp following rain issues that affected the variety’s pack outs. While January movement on apples was slow, demand is picking back up this month. 

On the East Coast, in New York and Pennsylvania, production seems to be average, or a bit above average this year. “We have enough fruit to keep our customers supplied through summer,” one shipper said. The growing conditions were very good and as a result, the region is seeing excellent quality fruit. Lower supplies from Washington have helped drive up demand.

Argentina: Volume of Argentine apples exported falls year on year
The apple harvest in the production regions of Argentina is in its first weeks. As the Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries of Argentina recently shared in a report on the apple and pear campaign, with data up to January 2023, this year an early flowering brought forward the start of the harvest from the first week of February to the third week of January. In fact, the Gala harvest was expected for January 21 and the Red Delicious for February 11.

The 2023 campaign begins after production in 2022 was located “at the lowest levels of recent years. The apple reached 420,000 tons, with a drop of 12% in relation to 2021”, highlights the organization.

“Apple exports also reflect a considerable drop, to the lowest levels in recent years. The lack of 7,000 tons of exports is noted in the month of March and a drop of 5,000 tons in the months of April and May. In this case, the decrease in sales to Russia is the main explanation for this drop”.

Statistics with data up to December 2022 provide detailed figures for this decline in apple exports from Río Negro and Neuquén in tons, per month and country of destination. In total, 63,924 tons were exported in 2022, 19% less than the volume dispatched in 2021 and 34% less than the almost 97,200 tons exported in 2020.

Brazil, followed by Bolivia and Paraguay, have been the main destinations for Argentine apples. However, exports to Brazil have fallen 20% year-on-year and volumes shipped to Bolivia have fallen 19%. On the contrary, the significant increase of 233% in shipments to Paraguay stands out, along with the 511% growth in exports to Canada or, as a curiosity, 75% to Libya.

Russia falls to fourth position in the list of the main destinations for apples from Neuquén and Río Negro after a 60% contraction in the volumes of fruit purchased in 2022, and the United States remains in fifth position despite registering a drop 40%.

In 2022, only 15% of the fresh apples produced in the region were destined for export, while 57% were sold in the domestic market. However, from the Ministry of Agriculture they point out that in 2022 domestic consumption continued with the drop observed in 2021. "2022 presents a drop of 7% in relation to 2021 and 11% in relation to the peak of 2020. Consumption returned at 2017-2018 levels”. The remaining 28%, some 119,000 tons, was destined for the processing industry.

New Zealand: Cyclone Gabrielle devastates New Zealand apple harvest
New Zealand is dealing with the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle which hit the country on Monday night. Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has called Gabrielle the biggest weather event to hit the country in the last century. It is estimated to have affected at least a third of the country’s five million population. A state of emergency has been declared in the country.

The cyclone has caused significant flooding and landslides across the North Island, but the damage is worst in coastal areas in the far north and east coast of the North Island – Hawkes Bay, Coromandel and Northland are among the worst hit.

The New Zealand apple harvest had just started, with a lot of trees full of apples ready to be picked, which have sustained huge damage from the storm. Although it is still very early days and growers are unable to access the orchards, one grower has said the damage could in the millions. In Hawke's Bay one large apple grower said: “Just driving around, it’s very clear to see apple trees uprooted and washed away, everything’s gone."

Big apple trees laden with fruit, which in harvest had to be accessed with ladders, were tipped over, with the wreckage piled up around them. “There is a lot of technology and innovation that has gone into the orchards over time and it’s just all gone.”

Next week: Global Market Overview Pineapple!