The head of Indian fruit importer IG International says there is "immense potential" for club apple varieties in the country, which has seen huge growth in imports of the fruit over the last decade and where its large, young population is eager to try new things.
Speaking at the Interpoma, the largest trade fair in the world dedicated to apples which takes place in Bolzano in Italy every two years, the company's CEO Tarun Arora also spoke about how trade conflicts with China and U.S. were creating significant opportunities for European exporters.
"People outside of India often see it as the land of one hundred problems, but what we must see is that it's also the place of one billion opportunities," he said.
Of India's total fruit imports, around 75% are apples. The country saw slow and steady growth for apple imports from the turn of the millennium until 2008, but since then they have skyrocketed, soaring to around 350,000 metric tons (MT) in 2016.
The following year saw a marked reduction to around 240,000MT following a ban on apple imports from China, which had been the leading supplier.
"China was a big exporter, but on the other hand the U.S. grasped the opportunity," he said, explaining that in 2017, the U.S. supplied around half of all imported apples in India, with the country becoming Washington state's third-biggest export market after Mexico and Canada.
However, U.S.'s position as the leading supplier is in jeopardy, with the Indian Government threatening to implement an additional 25% tariff on U.S. apples at the end of January, in response to U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. This would give U.S. apple exporters a 75% rate compared to all other countries which are on 50% and would therefore significantly impact trade volumes.
The main beneficiary of this situation will be Europe, Arora explained. He said the continent already had excellent trade relations with India in a number of areas, and was able to reach the Indian market in just three weeks, compared to around 40 days on average for the U.S.
In 2017 Italy was the main European apple supplier to India, accounting for around 5% of the total.
The Indian apple season normally starts around September but only lasts through December, in part due to lack of infrastructure and because the apple's shelf life is not very good. Domestic growers are heavily focused on the Red Delicious variety, but Arora said that imported club varieties have been delighting consumers during the rest of the year and are set for strong growth in the future.
"Overall, the evolution to other varieties has been quite large. You're looking now at Royal Gala taking quite a bit of market share from Red Delicious, and there are also a lot of other varieties that are going well, for example Pink Lady," he said.
"All the new club varieties have immense potential into the Indian market"
He explained that Indian consumers - of which millennials represent a huge proportion - are very dynamic and open to trying new things. They are also very health conscious, which is helping to increase the overall demand as well.
Indian millennials are very tech savvy, he added, and so a digital market campaign is important for new varieties entering the market.