Chile's gala apples having a ball in the Middle East

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Chile's gala apples having a ball in the Middle East

Middle Eastern citrus markets may be struggling with prices due to Northern-Southern Hemisphere production overlap, but the apple market has stayed stable with good prices for exporters. G.F. Marketing director David Pearce manages fruit supplies to the region from both Chile and South Africa, and expects growing demand for the Royal Gala variety.

Chile exported US$31.4 million worth of Royal Gala apples to the major regional distribution hubs of the U.A.E. and Saudi Arabia in the first half of 2011, according to statistics from the Office of Agriculture Studies and Policy (ODEPA).

The two countries act as key nodes for the Middle Eastern market as a whole, but if you include direct exports to the region, export values inflate to more than US$41 million.

In contrast, Chile shipped US$21.16 million worth of the variety to the U.S. market during the same period.

Historically the U.S. has been the main shipping destination for most Chilean fruits, but these figures out of the Middle East are testament to the South American country's growing diversification; not only is it shipping more apples there, but its fetching better prices too.

The average price per metric ton (MT) in U.S. shipments was US$648.48, while to the Middle East it was US$773.44.

G.F. Marketing director David Pearce has told Chile dominates the Middle Eastern Royal Gala market, while the U.S. is the big player during the Northern Hemisphere season with Red Delicious apples.

"Although Red Delicious is the most popular apple due to its shelf life and appearance, taste-wise Royal Gala popularity is increasing," he says.

"Traditionally Middle Eastern consumers like to choose apples with their eyes and not their taste buds, but now they're buying more conscientiously and they know the taste.

"Apples are consistently shipped and sold year round. Customers like them as they store well and there's plenty of volume available - everything in the Middle East is with cold trucks, but only around 20% is through supermarkets and the rest is open air in wet markets, and you’ve got temperatures often rising above 30ºC (86ºF) plus. Apples do well in that temperature."

He says Chile ships around six million cartons annually to the Middle East, which is a lot more than its main Southern Hemisphere competitors South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina.

"That’s a reasonable volume considering the Middle East is not exactly the biggest market when you compare to Europe and the U.S.

"New Zealand and South Africa are absolutely Mickey Mouse compared to the volumes Chile ships. South Africa, New Zealand and Argentina can’t be more than 20% so Chile must be more than 70%.

"(Royal Gala) Volumes are going to increase. Certainly when you compare, South Africa's apples are good and tasty, but they’re small, so in a 90kg carton you’re packing 180-150 counts, whereas in Chile it’s more the 110 count size, as they have fantastic day-night temperatures."

Pearce believes it is unlikely the Middle Eastern palate will change in preference of any 'new' apple varieties, due to several demographical and cultural factors.

"They’re not really that keen on trying out new varieties – we had the same experience in South Africa a few years ago, we got the Pink Lady and the Cripps Pink, and generally volumes are increasing but its smaller compared to other varieties. You’ve got to do quite a lot of promotions at the growers own costs.

"There’s a similar problem with Braeburn. It's very tasty but the appearance isn't as good - people often find it weird that it's got a bit of green and red, and in the Middle East they often can't imagine something like that would be tasty. They’re more traditional in that sense.

"The other thing is they have large families and they all live together and go to the markets to buy boxes of apples, boxes of oranges; it’s not a kilo here or a kilo there."

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