Fifteen years ago there were fewer varieties, and if just one variety had smaller or larger volumes, it affected the entire market. “We now have many apple varieties, resulting in a more segmented market. But so far, the season has been quite good. Compared with the last ten years, this is one of the better seasons,” says Marc Peyres from Blue Whale.
Problems on the market
“Two years ago, the Russian sanctions affected everyone in Europe, either directly or indirectly. And we are now experiencing some problems because of North Africa, which affects Southern European production, mostly in Spain, Italy and France,” Marc continues. “Because of this, we now have quite large stocks of Golden and Red Delicious. We are worried the next two months will be complicated if the African market is not as active as the last few seasons. However, varieties such as Gala and Fuji are doing quite well.”
“We started Nova Blue with slightly larger volumes this year, and the market is absorbing these volumes very well. We also had some successful promotions for Nova Blue in Spain last week. Volumes for this variety will increase over the next five years. Lily, a new Fuji strain, is also in demand. Unfortunately we cannot supply this at the moment, due to low production.” It takes between seven and ten years from deciding on a new variety, sourcing the trees, planting the trees and having enough production from those trees. “Two years ago, we planted Rockit trees, and we started to see the first apples this year. However, we will have proper quantity from these trees starting next year. We are ready to start packing and exporting Rockit next year. The challenge with Rocket is to get the same kind of excitement for it in Europe as we have experienced in Asia,” Marc says.
Blue Whale are planting and renewing more than eight per cent of their orchards every year, in order to change varieties and increase volumes. “One of our biggest developments at the moment is organic, we are developing 250 hectares for the cultivation of organic apples,” Marc explains. “We are going to actively follow trends as regards organic. We are not just going to switch our conventional apples to organic, we are going to have new brands for our organic cultivation. We have decided to protect the development of our new, organic varieties. However, it will take about three years before we can start properly harvesting and selling these apples. We have chosen two varieties that we can exclusively plant in France, and they will be better in terms of quality, as opposed to the current organic variety.”
Export of apples from Europe to the Middle East is under pressure. “Everyone wants to join this market, because they think it will be easy and have potential. But this all depends on which variety you wish to move. For example, in the Middle East you have practically no chance with varieties such as Jona, Golden or Breaburn, unless you are willing to sell them at very low prices. And the same is true for the Chinese market as well. Many traders dream of China, but once they go to that market, they realise it is a very complicated one.”
“We went to India 15 years ago, but we were too early. They are either looking for very cheap fruit or for very small volumes of high-quality fruit. We sent a few containers to India, but I cannot produce fruit in France to sell for 50 cents per kilogram in India. This mass market is therefore not yet for us. We will probably go to India again in a few years, but right now there are too many traders operating in India with low prices.”
Challenges for the future
“Having this many varieties, it will be challenging to make all of them successful, but it is more exciting than only having three varieties. Finding new markets and solving marketing issues is also more exciting. Not every day is easy, but it is a good way to stay young,” Marc laughs.