Italy: Gala apples still have "huge potential", says VOG chief -

Italy: Gala apples still have "huge potential", says VOG chief

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Italy: Gala apples still have

While Italian apple producer VOG has its first commercial Envy crop this year and is celebrating 20 years of the group's Marlene variety, CEO Gerhard Dichgans still has a strong belief in the classic Gala apple.

Speaking with during trade fair Fruit Attraction in Madrid last month, he said the variety was one of the consortium's main cultivars along with Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Cripps Pink and Granny Smith.

"Every year we have about 450 hectares being replanted by our growers – the main variety today is Gala, because we have old orchards now that have to be replaced," he said.

VOG CEO Gerhard Dichgans

VOG CEO Gerhard Dichgans

"It's a question of revitalizing old orchards which had been planted with standard Galas.

"We are convinced as marketers that Gala still has huge potential - it is selling 360° in all markets and has worldwide distribution and demand."

While premium club varieties are all the rage in the fruit industry and VOG is certainly banking on that trend, Dichgans said markets like North Africa and the Middle East were still significant consumers of standard cultivars; a dynamic that is particularly relevant for offsetting effects from the Russian ban on EU-grown fruit.

"We think that now the psychological effect of last year's embargo has been ingested and people understand how to manage the volumes.

"Where are the markets? We have seen last year with the low prices in origin, which have been transferred to the consumer, that everywhere consumers came back to apple consumption. That's almost in every country.

"We had a good export season last season into the Mediterranean destinations, so that means North Africa, the Arabic countries and Egypt, and that was important for us as we are producers of classical varieties."

Dichgans said around 15% of VOG's apples were exported outside Europe.

"It's difficult today to sell higher volumes of club apples like Pink Lady in the Maghreb or Egypt, so this is still a market for standard varieties of high quality.

"We have to make a distinction - club varieties are not of higher quality compared to standard varieties; they are just different types of varieties, sold in two different markets with different positioning.

"Club varieties normally have premium positioning and standard varieties do not, but they can be of high premium quality. So in Arabic countries they have very high standards for Golden, Gala and Red, and they pay for high standard only."

With the industry now better adapted to the Russian situation with new market outlets, combined with lower volumes forecast this season, Dichgans added he expected a "reasonable result" for growers in 2015-16. In terms of Gala, VOG has already sold more than 50% of its crop and expects a stable market.

However, expanding into new markets can also bring new challenges like exchange rates and political volatility.

"I think this is difficult to manage because you have to reinvent your planning every year again - you need to understand the political situation in Libya and the Middle East, and that's a type of challenge we didn't have when we were still serving the traditional core European markets," he said.

"Once you have opened your mind and your commercial activities are outside the boundaries of the Eurozone, you have to face and live with these challenges which can dramatically affect the result from one season to the next, because the volumes we are exporting to these areas are already very important."

First commercial Envy crop

Dichgans himself is a big fan of the Enza's Envy apple variety, which VOG and Val Venosta hold an exclusive production license for in Italy.

"We have now planted the hectares we agreed with Enza and we have now picked the first real commercial crop of 250 [metric] tons, so the market now must show us what will happen with that," he said.

"We have been having the tastings here in Madrid together with Enza and their own booth; the results are enthusiastic.

"I personally like the variety very much and think it fits perfectly into the Spanish and Italian consumer preferences, where these are two markets that consume a high percentage of Fuji. So Envy is fitting perfectly as a premium-branded apple for that segment."

He described the apple as completely different to another Enza variety, Jazz.

"I think Jazz fits perfectly into the markets of Central and Northern Europe where a lot of Braeburn and Jonagold are consumed - that's a perfect premium offer in that segment and it's a fantastic apple.

"We are growing 120 hectares and are partners with Enza in that project as well."

Celebrating 20 years of Marlene

In terms of other premium varieties, VOG is also celebrating 20 years of its Marlene apple, and is running a 'Win! Marlene' contest with prizes including an Audi A3 Sportback e-tron and Honda SH125i ABS scooters.

The contest is taking place in eight countries: Italy, Spain, Malta, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium, Cyprus and the U.K.

"We are intensifying the marketing activities to sustain our partners to sell our fruit – the main focus is on the win label contest played in eight nations at the same time.

"It means Marlene is getting more and more international; born 20 years ago in Italy, then coming eight years ago to Spain, and now we have partners in many countries."

He said VOG also had partners for the variety in other European countries, as well as Morocco, Libya, Algeria, Lebanon and Jordan.

"The Marlene family is still growing and we would like to expand that also in the future."

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