Local U.K. apples and pears riding wave of enthusiasm

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Local U.K. apples and pears riding wave of enthusiasm

Over the last few years, British retailers have been demonstrating a stronger commitment to stocking and selling English apples and pears fuelled by an increasing consumer demand for home-grown fruit. The likes of Gala, Braeburn and Cox, all grown on native soil, are more than holding their own against an assortment of imported varieties found on supermarket shelves. Several multinationals have been working closely with industry experts and growers to plan for future production. At www.freshfruitportal.com, we speak with industry expert Adrian Barlow, from the organization English Apples and Pears, on a healthy appetite for domestic fruit.

Early predictions for the next season are looking very good and with the threat of a late frost diminishing as spring continues to bloom, England's weather has been a friend to apple farmers so far in 2014.

Photo: Nick Saltmarsh, via Flickr Creative Commons

Photo: Nick Saltmarsh, via Flickr Creative Commons

Although it’s premature to discuss detailed yields, several key U.K. supermarkets, including Sainsbury's, Tesco and Waitrose, are in talks with the industry to gauge what to expect from farmers. What they want is to determine which arieties are proving popular among British consumers and the types of volumes they can expect to receive later this year and into next.

Barlow says this is one sure sign of the across-the-board commitment and support Britain's major grocery chains are showing to English fruit growers.

"The retailers have been looking ahead and telling the industry what their projections indicate and telling the growers what they are going to need in terms of varieties and quantities of those varieties," Barlow says.

"Over the next five to ten years, that represents quite a significant change so the retailers want to know who is going to be planting more and what the expectations will be. They have put together clear plans based on all the analysis.

"Equally, the retailers understand that the growers need a commitment from them, especially if they are going to plant more. We understand they cannot make absolute promises but growers know it is the intention of the retailers to continue to sell English apples and pears because this is what the customer base wants."

Demand for English-grown apples drives the market

From 2005 to 2011-12, sales of English apples and pears increased by 65% through multiple U.K. retailers. Last year, Tesco increased its market share from 28.1% to 32%, while Sainsbury’s sold 27% of the total production of English apples on the market, Barlow explains.

"If you look at the sales achieved there has been an enormous increase in the market as a whole. Firstly, retailers have become aware of the fact that British consumers want English apples and pears because of concerns over climate change and global warming and the perceived link between damaging effects on the environment.

"So people want produce grown closer to home. They like the idea of that.

"Retailers know that if they don't stock sufficient quantities then they are likely to lose customers to their rivals who are stocking them; it's just as simple as that. They recognize that to satisfy their customers they've got to stock English apples more and that's exactly what they have done."

Currently Gala is the most popular variety in the U.K., followed by Braeburn and then Cox. Most supermarkets and independent stores do stock imported and branded varieties like Pink Lady and Granny Smith, but Barlow insists the public's enthusiasm for locally-produced fruit outweighs some of the foreign options.

Meanwhile, Britain's taste for English apples is being demonstrated away from the commercial side of the fresh produce industry.

General sales of fruit trees at garden centers are reportedly increasing and more community orchards are being planted all over the country as the eco-friendly, 'home grown' philosophy continues to broaden, especially amongst the struggling families affected by the recession and middle classes as a fashionable lifestyle trend.

"There has been a surge and trend of 'growing your own' driven by incomes being under extra pressure at the moment. People are also encouraged to grow in their home gardens and there has also been an increase in community projects in schools, villages and towns, planting trees and that sort of thing.

"We absolutely encourage all of that, even though we will not be selling any of the fruit, because the more people who get into the habit of eating English apples and pears, the better.

"We as an industry don't expect a God-given right to be able to sell our apples and pears. We know we have to produce quality and ultimately grow what the consumers wants to buy. Retailers are showing more commitment to selling our apples and British consumers love them."


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