While the initial forecast for New Zealand's apple season predicted the total crop would see a modest increase over 2018's, atypical growing conditions have affected this year's harvest, says T&G Global Limited.
Rachel Stotter, director of international sales, explains: "That increase hasn’t eventuated due to an unusual growing season that has delivered smaller-sized fruit, which means less tonnage and cartons overall. This is true for the whole New Zealand crop."
She adds that "the overall reduction in volume and fruit size wasn’t foreseen." In fact, early growing conditions were ideal.
"We had a great spring, plenty of rain to fill dams and aquifers and a steady warm growing season and dry harvest. So growing conditions were pretty good."
She notes that this changed during the mid to late summer months. During this period, Nelson was affected by drought conditions, impacting fruit size.
Beyond the drought, a drop in temperatures dealt the category another unexpected blow.
"All we can deduce is a brief cold snap after flowering may have affected cell division within the trees and resulted in this smaller fruit. Royal Gala, Jazz, Braeburn and Pink Lady are most affected and are all early flowering varieties," she says.
"Thinning regimes and practices were standard and all done on schedule. So it has been an unusual result."
Envy apples shine domestically and abroad
Speaking on its proprietary apples, T&G expects continued success with its Envy variety.
Stotter says there has been "good growth in Envy generally." Specifically, the U.S. and Canada have increased promotion and brand activity for this variety.
The EU and UK have also expanded the distribution and sales of this category. The same is true for the company's targeted Asian markets, she adds.
Meanwhile, she explains the company is holding "more of a maintenance position on Jazz in Asia and the U.S., as the smaller-fruit-sized crop has impacted Jazz more."
In the UK and the EU, she anticipates the company to continue its "great retail positioning and supply" for the variety.
In contrast, there will be a lighter supply of a couple of mainstream varieties heading to the EU.
"For the mainstream varieties Royal Gala and Braeburn, the EU markets are definitely weaker as a result of the EU stock carryover and price discounting."
As a result, the company is targeting this region with less fruit, she explains.
Asia in "good demand position"
Elaborating on market conditions abroad, Stotter points to Asia as an attractive export destination for New Zealand apples.
"Asia generally is in a good demand position because of the lack of Chinese Fuji and less EU and U.S. export carryover. So sales have been firm for the first selling part of the season and we plan for it to remain positive.
"North America remains a challenge with a generally flat Apple market for the remainder of their domestic, stored crop but we are in crossover supply point now and key customers are definitely looking for Fresh New Zealand supply, Canada in particular. Values are steady but we are working hard to reinvigorate the apple category."
When it comes to India and subcontinent markets, she describes them as "challenging." This is mainly due to the stock from the Northern Hemisphere in these markets.
All of these markets might face some supply pressure as a result of New Zealand's smaller-sized crop, she cautions.
Tariffs are another factor straining apple markets, specifically the U.S's.
Stotten emphasizes that T&G has good free trade agreements in place with most of its export trading partners. Thus the company isn't directly affected by this political situation. However, she points out that "it has certainly disrupted trade flows and created uncertainty".
"We suspect it will impact our own U.S. exports back into China and Asia for the upcoming U.S. season. That is frustrating."
T&G's renewed focus on sustainability
Looking toward the future, T&G has voiced its commitment to become more environmentally conscientious.
"Our focus is on developing more sustainable, cardboard and low-plastic packaging across all markets as we think about improving our sustainability footprint and assist in reducing single-use plastic waste," says Stotten.
She adds that one future project created with this aim in mind is set to launch in the UK.
"Keep a lookout in UK especially for a trial Jazz pack that gives great retail floor presence, presents the fruit well and has good visual impact."