With so much innovation going into the breeding and introduction of new fruit varieties there is a need to raise UK consumers’ awareness of their manifold options, particularly for table grapes, says, Alan Guindi, managing director of leading UK importer-distributor for Tesco, Richard Hochfeld Group (RHG)
“You cannot sell many products by variety in the UK,” Guindi tells Produce Business UK. “Apples is one of those few product groups where people do actually recognise varieties. When Jazz apples hit the market there was a buzz and excitement. You heard people saying ‘I had some Jazz apples the other day and they were really interesting’, whereas it doesn’t really happen with grapes because people don’t recognise the varieties.”
Guindi says recent customer focus work carried out by RHG has revealed that Thompson Seedless is about the only grape variety that UK consumers have any perception or idea of.
“There’s probably a need for a lot of education to raise consumer awareness in fruit varieties, and grapes in particular,” he states. “Currently, Tesco’s grapes are Tesco’s grapes and Sainsbury’s grapes are Sainsbury’s grapes. When I’m asked to print the grape variety on the pack, there’s very little notice taken.”
Despite that, Guindi says there is a huge level of effort that goes into choosing the right grape varieties and presentations for UK consumers. “Innovation is very high on our agenda,” he reveals. “It’s up to us to generate those ideas and come up with the innovation in terms of packaging, pack sizes, product sizes etc.”
RHG, which celebrates its 80th anniversary next year, spends a great deal of time researching and introducing new varieties into its product portfolio. “Every year the technical manager and I look at what’s going on in the market,” Guindi explains. “The Sun World varietal breeding programme is very good. We also look at the ARRA programme [coordinated by Grapa and Giumarra] which trials extensively in California and we literally spend a week looking a three or four of the different breeding programmes that are being carried out that.”
UK still very important
Even though the UK market is still a “little way off” printing more company brands on fruit packaging, Guindi says the UK remains attractive and loyal to its suppliers. “For many years Sun World has said it would love us to sell to retail fruit with the Sun World brand,” he points out. “No matter what anyone says the UK is still a desirable market for a lot of growers around the world..The UK market is still very important. It’s not fickle, it’s not a traded market. It’s based on programmes that have been built up over a number of years. And the premiums are there for the right product.”
RHG primarily supplies Tesco in the UK and its offer is split approximately 50:50 between grape and top fruit. Apples and pears arrive from the full gamut of domestic and overseas sources, while grapes are imported from 16 different countries throughout the year. “We have a 52-week programme of red and white grapes, plus we do black grapes as much as possible,” Guindi says adding that he is cautiously excited about the future.