China: Strong domestic summer fruit season puts pressure on imports
A Chinese importer and exporter says a proliferation of good quality, domestic fruit this summer has made it challenging for traders of commodities like New Zealand apples and Egyptian oranges.
"We've seen a slowdown on the import market because this year you have a lot of domestic fruit," says Cobby Lin.
As the international business division director at Shenzhen YuanXing Fruit Co, Lin still has had much to be positive about since the launch of the company's brand YumSun at Asia Fruit Logistica 10 months ago.
Packing fruit under the new "international-style" brand, Lin received positive feedback in response to Spanish citrus and Peruvian Red Globes, and is looking at whether to expand the initiative into South African citrus soon, but the market overall is under a bit of pressure right now.
The reason? A wide and diverse range of local fruit on offer, and according to Lin a new orientation from some consumers towards fruit that may look "ugly" but has great flavor.
"For example, people are eating litchis, peaches, and one thing I’ve noticed in China is that small regions people hadn’t known about before are coming out with new varieties of peaches or plums," he tells Fresh Fruit Portal.
"They’re not like Angelino or black plums; they might not be pretty but they taste good. Chinese consumers like sweet-tasting fruit.
"If a fruit tastes good, the appearance might not be the only factor."
And these new fruits on the market, with the notable inclusion of "crunchy, sweet" Chinese dates, are enticing consumers into impulse purchases. It's a development that's unlikely to change the overall upward import trend, but according to Lin there has been an impact.
"The apple market slowed down a bit on the import side...Chile is doing okay because there aren’t too many Galas coming in, but New Zealand apples in China and Taiwan have been very slow," he says.
"What we’ve heard on the street is that there are a lot of Egyptian citrus in coolers because the market is very slow. People are just waiting for a better market."
Premium pome fruit varieties
While Lin has seen difficulties for New Zealand-grown apples, his company has managed to buck the trend in the country's pome fruit somewhat this year through the development of premium items like Freshmax's Piqa Boo pears and FreshCo's Sonya apples.
"Because the limited edition [of Piqa Boo] is unique - it's a red pear so it's very different - when it came into the market it was gone right away," the executive says.
"In Sonya we are pushing more not just in the wholesale but we're trying to pack in the four-pack or six-pack in stores like Olé, Sam's Club or Walmart. We want it to be more accessible, because traditionally these are all through the wholesale market."
He says with FreshCo's Sonya apple the company is trying to compete with Enza's premium apple variety.
"Enza does a good job on the Envy as a variety - it’s very successful, so we certainly would like to follow a trend to build the variety Sonya to make it unique, to make it stand out for people to recognize this variety."
New offices, trade developments
While Southeast Asia has traditionally been Shenzhen Yuanxing's traditional export market, Lin highlights recent forays into India as well.
"We’ve been actually very successful on our export program this year to India under the YumSun brand...we got really good feedback," he says.
"I was there about two months ago to visit our customers in Mumbai and Chennai, and the Indian customer visited us in a production region right after Asia Fruit Logistica.
"When we were in the market there were so many Chinese apples there. When we ship to India we do a program of about 40 containers."
He says the journey to India takes about 20 days, unlike exporting to Thailand which can take just three days by truck via Vietnam.
"10-15 years ago we were doing a lot of export but in recent years because the Chinese market has come up, the domestic consumption increased, and also the domestic price is pretty good," he says.
"Our company is very strong on the local retail, so we are not too focus on export because we can get more consistent business and more returns domestically rather than exports."
To accompany this push on the domestic market for the company, which last year notched total sales of around US$200 million, late last year the southern China-based group opened new offices in Shanghai and Beijing.
"Our Shanghai office services CitySuper, Olé and some of the smaller retail stores. Beijing is more focused online – we work for example with JD with an online store, and also deal with wholesale markets in Beijing," Lin says.
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