Gala leads strong UK apple market

Most apple varieties and Conference pears have been meeting a buoyant demand, with Gala proving the real "jewel in the crown", according to marketers such as OrchardWorld managing director Mark Culley.

UK-grown Gala is selling ahead of the imported product, with prices 10 to 15 per cent up on last year.

Culley said English Gala apples were undoubtedly benefiting from supermarkets' support, prompted largely by the desire to reduce food miles and the fruit's very good cosmetic and eating quality.

"Gala is such a big seller," he said. "Demand for it is good year-round and, if we can replace the imported product with English, it's obviously good for our industry."

Production of Gala is fast catching up to that of Cox, which - although selling reasonably well this season - is under increasing pressure from other varieties. It is tending to be sold on promotion in order to move the large volume available. As a result, its average price over the season will suffer, although its price has been a bit better than it was last season.

Culley is not alone in thinking that the industry is producing too much Cox, which totalled some 49,400 tonnes this season against Gala's 26,640 tonnes. His view is shared by Clive Goatham, who has around 570ha of orchards in Kent and markets his crop through his own company, Weald Marketing.

"As the production of varieties like Gala and Braeburn continues to increase it will be at Cox's expense," he said. "Its tonnage must be significantly reduced to avoid its price declining. About 25,000 tonnes seems to be what's mooted, but I think we'll only be able to sell about 20,000 tonnes comfortably."

OrchardWorld was starting to market Braeburn in the second week of January but it was up against much keener competition than Gala, said Culley. France is a major supplier and, while it has other market options for Gala, it has to export Braeburn to the UK.

"The UK Braeburn market will be quite tricky for a year or two but the French won't give it up in a hurry," Culley said. "The price of Braeburn in Europe is five to 10 per cent lower than last year due to high volumes, but the strengthening of the euro might help English Braeburn a bit (in the UK market)."

He said Bramley was being well supported by supermarkets, with steady sales and a good price. Promotion of the variety by the Bramley Apple Campaign in recent years has also helped and supermarkets like to stock it. Culley said that in the past, when the market was set by Cox, Bramley sold for 10p/kg to 15p/kg less than Cox, but now Bramley makes more.

Conference is being well supported by supermarkets, too. According to Goatham, who produces nearly 6,000 tonnes of the pear variety, it is making better money than last year. He believed one reason for this was its good quality and size. He also pointed to "the significant movement of the Dutch and Belgian product eastward rather than westward".

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