Sector welcomes market intervention

'Action must be taken quickly before apples are harvested,' warns English Apples & Pears chief.

Apples: countries agreed market withdrawal is the right approach
Apples: countries agreed market withdrawal is the right approach

Top fruit

English Apples & Pears chief executive Adrian Barlow has welcomed EU moves to intervene in the market in the wake of Russia's ban of fresh-produce imports.

Agriculture commissioner Dacian Ciolos announced: "I am triggering CAP emergency measures that will reduce overall supply of a number of fruit and vegetable products on the European market as and when price pressures become too great in the coming months."

The measures will apply from 18 August to the end of November, with an anticipated budget of EUR125m (£100m), and will not only apply to producer organisations, according to a Commission statement.

This appears to meet concerns by representatives of apple- and pear-producing countries, Barlow explained. "Delegates from World Apple & Pear Association member countries at the Prognosfruit meeting in Turkey all agreed that market withdrawal was the right approach."

But he urged: "Action must be taken quickly, so that measures can be implemented before apples are harvested, potentially saving the cost of harvesting unsaleable fruit. Assistance should be targeted at those countries that exported to Russia - it wouldn't be right to direct support to the UK. But we will be affected if there is no intervention, so we need assistance in that sense."

An alternative to leaving withdrawn crops unharvested would be to give them away to recipients such as old people's homes or food banks, he suggested.

This season's European apple crop is estimated to be up nine per cent, he said. "But the fruit is generally large so the rise in actual numbers will be nothing like as much, while areas including the Balkans and Turkey are showing a significant dip. China is also down at least five per cent."

As for the UK: "The season is very early, by three to four weeks, with Europe not far behind, which gives additional length to the selling season," said Barlow. As a result, early varieties such as Discovery are in shops now.

"The eating quality and texture are extremely good, with a lot of juice - they have benefited from warmth, sunshine and reasonable rainfall. With such good quality we expect to see a progressive increase in consumption."

He added: "We've already had a massive amount of coverage in the consumer, national and regional press. The multiples will hopefully get cracking now on promoting English fruit."

Top fruit - Tesco first in English crop sales

For the year to 19 July, Tesco pipped Sainsbury's in sales of English top fruit, selling 30.7 per cent of the English crop to Sainsbury's 30.6 per cent, said English Apples & Pears chief executive Adrian Barlow.

With 9.1 per cent, Waitrose's share is now, like Sainsbury's, around twice its overall grocery market share. Morrisons sold 13.2 per cent of the crop, Asda 7.3 per cent and Marks & Spencer, 4.1 per cent.

Overall sales of English apples and pears to the multiples were up 19 per cent, with dessert apples up a "terrific" 29 per cent, compensating for dips in pears and Bramleys, though the latter rebounded towards the end of the period, Barlow added.

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