Belgium’s largest apple and pear grower cooperative has been greatly increasing trade and marketing activities in the Indian market over the last couple of years in the wake of the Russian ban on European produce imports.
BelOrta commercial manager Jo Lambrecht told PBUK the entity’s fruit had been exported to the market for several years, albeit initially with much smaller volumes.
The group, comprising around 1,300 growers from the country, is now preparing for its third season of market development in India, according to the representative.
“We have had some good results because the market likes our apples, the quality we bring them, and the varieties we have. It’s a good click between the importers over there and the exporters over here,” Lambrecht said.
He said Russia’s ban on produce imports from the European Union implemented in response to economic sanctions in 2014 had led to a “huge impact” on the Belgian market.
“It had an impact on both apples and pears. There was the direct huge impact on our pear market, but the consequences for our European apple market were also serious,” he said.
“So the whole apple production could not get away and of course everyone’s now looking for new markets. India’s one of them, but it’s not the only one – there are some other projects as well,” he said.
“We even did some big promotions last year in the Indian market. We had a lot of commercials on TV, radio, social media, and we had a lot of tastings because we believe that tastings are an important driver to gain the confidence of the consumer.
“That’s what we did last year and that’s what we’re going to keep doing. We are proud of what we bring, we trust the quality is very good, and we believe that the Indian consumers love the fruit. They eat a lot of fruit, and we think this is a match.”
The main apple variety shipped from BelOrta to India is the Jonagold – a cross between the Golden Delicious and the blush-crimson Jonathan. This is also the most widely grown apple variety in Belgium.
Lambrecht said some other apple varieties were shipped to India, but in much smaller volumes. In pears it is the Conference variety.
Even though Red Delicious and Royal Gala have traditionally been the most established apple varieties in India, Lambrecht said there was undoubtedly an appetite for Jonagold.
“You cannot catch India in one hand. It is a very versatile market with differences between the north and the south part of the country,” he said.
“There are 1.3 billion people and so many different tastes, but they still love the taste and sweetness balance of the Jonagold. We are supporting the consumers with tastings, but we already have a lot of people who love Jonagold, for sure.”
He explained that given the size of the cooperative, the entity worked with numerous export and import partners around the world.
Export forecasts to the market are hard to ascertain for now, Lambrecht said, partly because severe frosts in April had affected pome fruit production around Europe, including in Belgium.
“The international situation will play an important role [in the exports]. There were some troubles with frost damage in April, so it will also depend on that,” he said.
“There are some producers who have been hit by the frosts. In some orchards you have significantly less production than in normal years, final figures will be clear in a few weeks.”