Study flags storage capacity shortfall

Growth of British apple production forecast to result in 34 per cent deficit of viable cold stores.

The British apple sector will hit a shortage of storage capacity if current volume increases in production continue, according to latest research by Sarah Calcutt of SEC Consulting.

"The sector has set itself a target of 50 per cent of market share, but that will mean an increasing deficit in cold storage and higher running costs," Calcutt told the Top Fruit Storage Day at East Malling Research.

"As we increase volume in Gala, Braeburn and other new varieties, there will be a greater need for post-Christmas storage, and by 2015-16 we won't have enough. I calculate that we will be 34 per cent astray."

A further issue is the lack of electricity locally to power such facilities, she added. "I know of three storage sites that will have to use solar panels because there isn't the power available," she said.

"In addition, the cost of electricity has risen rapidly over recent years, which means cold storage is no longer cost-effective for some varieties. Retailers also want more sustainable production, which puts further pressure on the industry."

New stores in rural areas may not be popular with newly devolved planning bodies, she warned. "There are a lot of challenges once you see farming as a business rather than a craft industry," she added.

Calcutt said she would raise these concerns with Defra ministers in June.

Retail potential - Market headroom

Tesco produce technical manager John Worth said at the Top Fruit Storage Day event that there is "headroom" for growers to provide more British apples to the retailer.

"Besides the two big varieties - Gala and Braeburn - there are also 10 others where there is headroom, although they are more niche," he said.

But top fruit buyer John Driscoll added that he was cautious of getting British apples on the shelves too early in the season. "We don't want to put customers off the product," he explained.

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