Expanding the UK’s export horizons opens the door for growers to achieve superior prices for larger apple sizes not demanded by domestic retailers. Growers and exporters in the UK have welcomed the signing of an Enhanced Trade Partnership (ETP) between the UK and India to facilitate the supply of fresh apples.
The opportunities in India are cited to be “significant” on account of the country’s considerable population and growing middle class who enjoy the high-quality varieties and large sizes produced in the UK. PBUK investigates.
Following negotiations during the last three years, the confirmed phytosanitary protocol will require British apples to be transported to India under cold treatment. Although it is not a free trade deal, the ETP no longer precludes the UK from exporting apples to India, and thereby places the UK on a level playing field with fellow exporting nations France, Belgium, South Africa and New Zealand, among others.
“There were phytosanitary requirements in place that had removed India as a potential destination for topfruit,” Ali Capper, executive chair of national trade body British Apples & Pears tells PBUK. “With the removal of the requirement for methyl-bromide application post harvest, and its replacement with a cold treatment protocol there is now great potential for the export of the right varieties to the right trading partner.”
While the finer details have yet to be formalised, including the tariff levels, potential trial shipments and the start date for exports, UK suppliers are looking forward to building a premium export market for their fruit in India.
Indeed, developing overseas markets is all part of a forward business plan for a growing sector, according to British Apples & Pears, and there is “a lot of interest” in the Indian trade deal.
“This is about maximising the sale of large fruit to premium customers,” Mark Culley, managing director of UK-based topfruit sourcing specialist Orchard World tells PBUK. “We are trying to get the highest net returns back to the growers by finding good, premium markets who will take larger fruit.”
Whereas UK supermarkets want smaller-sized apples, Culley says India’s population of 1.3 billion people prefer larger fruit and light-coloured varieties; presenting good opportunities for UK growers and suppliers.
“India has a huge population and it’s a very worthwhile market; Orchard World absolutely is keen to export there,” Culley explains. “There are many other apple exporters to India, however, so it will take time for the UK to find its place.”
India also has a sizeable demographic that aspires to a Western lifestyle. “With such a large population we believe that there are excellent opportunities for good quality, well-flavoured, British fruit,” points out Capper. “India wants high quality, safe food for its population. Brand GB is strong, and our reputation for high quality, safe food is very robust.”
Given that the lion’s share of the UK’s apple production is sold domestically, the export volume for India is expected to be small at first. Supply will comprise predominantly the Royal Gala variety, which can withstand the 30-day shipping voyage and is produced widely in the UK.
“Gala ticks all the boxes,” notes Culley. “We’d look to start in late September and go through to February/March at which point India will have new season South African apples available.”
While negotiations regarding the varietal offer have not yet begun, Capper agrees that the current UK export programme hinges on Gala. “We would also anticipate an overseas market for larger fruiting, high-colour varieties such as Magic Star and Red Prince,” she reveals.
As for which market channels the UK will target, all options are being kept open. Nonetheless, India’s wholesale markets dominate sales when it come to fresh produce, absorbing 90 per cent of volume. That said, to warrant shipping British apples over such a distance, Capper believes the target market in India will be retail partners.
“At this point, it’s important to understand the logistics of getting apples to India,” Culley points out. “In due course it will be important to understand the processes involved in supplying the retailers.”
Already, British Apples & Pears has identified a proportion of the national crop that would be suitable for export. “We have the support of the Department for International Trade (DIT) and the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs (Defra), and we have every expectation that exports will begin as soon as trade partners have been identified,” Capper predicts.
India already imports fresh apples from multiple origins, including many producing nations in Europe, such as: Italy, Belgium, France, and Poland. The USA is another significant supplier, alongside Chile, South Africa, New Zealand, China and Turkey. UK apples will be another addition.
“We are confident that British apples can do really well in India,” Shubha Rawal, Head of Procurement at India’s leading fresh fruit importer-distributor IG International in Mumbai, India, confirms to PBUK. “Looking at the volumes that India imports, and the population of the country, apples from any new origin receive a great response if marketed correctly.”
Despite being a large producer itself, India is a big market for imported apples as a means to satisfy the consumption demands of its rising population and the growing buying power of Indian consumers.
Indeed, British Apples & Pears claims that access to technology and new varieties to deliver a longer domestic apple season has been a challenge for India. “There is a need to supplement home production,” Capper states.
According to IG International, apple imports into India currently total almost 300,000 tonnes from around 30 different countries. The import season begins around October with smaller volumes, before peaking in March and April when Indian apples are not available.
IG International is well-known in India for opening up new markets for fresh produce. “We have launched apple imports from almost 20 different origins, and the business is rapidly growing every year contributing to 75 per cent of our total sales of apples,” reveals Rawal. “The varieties that work best are Royal Gala, Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and Fuji, followed by other club varieties, with sizes ranging from 90 to 198 in bushel packs.”
The UK’s largest apple and pear grower AC Goatham & Son also welcomes the new trade deal at a time when the family-run firm has invested significantly in increasing its volume of fruit and capacity for handling and storage.
“Export is something that we have already successfully trialled to the Middle East and we look forward to opening discussions with interested parties in India,” says managing director Ross Goatham.
Kent-based AC Goatham & Son, which grows over 350 million apples and 55 million pears each year, believes the deal will help boost UK jobs and growth in the topfruit sector. With a population larger than both the European Union and the United States combined, the group says the Indian market presents a “significant opportunity”.
“This is an exciting opportunity for our business as we grow and supply the best quality British apples and pears direct to supermarket customers, controlling every step in the process from the trees in the ground to delivery in our own vehicles,” Goatham comments.
“It is therefore very easy for us to explore new overseas markets and the potential that new trade deals present.”