English Apples & Pears chief executive Adrian Barlow has called for a "massive improvement" in retailers' displays to clearly identify English apples to shoppers.
"What you see now is a jumbled mess of English and imported," he told delegates at the National Fruit Show (21-22 October).
"We want to see block displays of English, as one or two retailers have done. Shoppers want to buy English apples but can't find them - the multiples are crazy not to make it easy for them. You should complain, constructively. We need to get a strong message across at a high level."
However, he welcomed new flow-wrapped apple packs now being rolled out in Tesco and Sainsbury's stores, saying that compared with conventional bags, in which "you can't see the product very well", the two are "like chalk and cheese". Barlow added that he hopes the new format "will give us a boost in sales".
Any such boost will be welcome in what has been "a tough market" this year, he went on.
"The big four retailers are in a terrific battle to avoid erosion to the discounters. Fortunately they are saying 'we can buy cheaper but choose not to' - in general, they are paying more."
Sales to multiples are currently more than twice what they were at the same time last year, but Russia's ban on EU fresh-produce imports "is indirectly having a considerable effect", he said.
"Only first-class product will sell. Unless you're on a long-term contract, you can't give fruit away for juicing right now. There is a lot of panic in Europe."
But the UK industry has longer-term growth potential, he said. "The total UK apple market is 120,000 tonnes, so two-thirds of that, or the eight months we can supply to, is 80,000 tonnes. Currently our maximum production is 40,000 tonnes so there is a lot to go for."
Barlow urged: "Don't plant on spec. You need to talk to your customers first to establish exactly where the opportunities are." He also warned: "The selling and negotiation skills in fresh produce aren't good enough compared with the people they are selling to, who have had a lot of training."
Opening the show, Defra minister Lord de Mauley described apples as "part of our national identity", and said: "We want British apples on British retailers' shelves."
National Fruit Show - Jazz apples triumph
Jazz apples took a clean sweep of the three tastiest apple awards at the National Fruit Show, with Simon Bray claiming the top spot.
Clive and Richard Edmed were the winners of the tastiest pear, for a Comice, and also claimed the bonanza prize of 1,000 trees and stakes as well as a trip to France or Belgium to select the trees.
In soft fruit, Kent breeder, propagator and grower Edward Vinson took all five strawberry titles, while PR & ON Harrold of Sunclose Farm cleaned up in the three raspberry categories and WC Chambers & Son of Kent took both blackberry prizes.