The all-important vital statistics from Asia Fruit Logistica, Asia’s only dedicated fresh fruit and vegetable trade show, held 7 – 9 September 2016 are in – 11,000 high-quality buyers and trade visitors from 74 different countries in attendance. The visitor numbers marked a 22 per cent increase on last year’s event. Visitors found a show that had expanded by some 18 per cent on last year’s event in terms of exhibition space. Altogether, some 665 companies from 37 different countries exhibited their products and services at the trade fair, an increase of almost 100 on the 2015 edition.
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That’s great, but what does it mean for the Australian apple and pear industry and apple and pear export opportunities? Well, it’s hard to sugar coat the message but there are a lot of apples out there, both in terms of volume and varieties. Not only are Australian growers and exporters competing with our traditional southern hemisphere competitors; South Africa, New Zealand and Chile but due to increasing numbers of cold storage facilities and advances in knowledge and expertise in managing the cold-store process, the northern hemisphere apple producing countries supply now bleeds into what was traditionally the Australian supply window.
So how do we stand out amongst the crowd and ensure Australia is not overlooked as a source of premium, high quality, safe fruit, particularly when others are spruiking the same message, often at lower prices?
I wish I had a silver bullet solution for this one, but I’ve yet to find it. What we need to do, collectively as an industry and individually as supply partners is deliver on the following;
- Most importantly ensure a consistent supply of high quality, premium grade fruit;
- Ensure 100 per cent compliance and integrity of the fruit from a food safety perspective;
- Understand the customer base and their specific needs, be it the importer, retailer or end consumer and seek to tailor your offer to meet their specific requirements;
- Value add your offer – be it through the provision of innovative packaging, offering unique and new varieties, offering point of sale support, consumer facing or provide staff education tools and collateral to support the knowledge and sale of your fruit;
- Promote the core messages of Australian provenance – premium, high quality, safe and trusted fruit;
- Branding – if possible promote your brand and/or region on the fruit. If customers have a good eating experience with your fruit, you want them to ask for it by name. With the prolific use and acceptance of social media as a means of communicating the message, it’s possible to achieve this without investing significant promotional dollars. Of course if the customer had a bad experience the adverse effect will be the spreading of not so good news but the upside is that you may then have the opportunity to respond and address the issue;
- Tell your story – you may not see the value in your story, but others will, be it having a history of family generations invested in your business, your unique growing environment, the story of your varietal development, the lengths you go to to produce and deliver safe, high quality fruit, your passion for producing healthy fruit to feed the word, your investment in technology, compliance and efficiency etc. The Tasmanian Tiger Fuji apple is a good example of how clever marketing has created a point of difference;
- Develop relationships with your supply base through the investment of time and resources so that you are the go-to, trusted supplier who always meets, and sometimes exceeds, their expectations. There are some buyers out there that still place a value on loyalty and are not solely driven by price alone;
- Be prepared to offer your fruit as a longer term supply and not a one off to satisfy the supply base particularly if you expect them to invest in your brand. For similar reasons you need to get value out of your marketing; and
- Explore alternative routes to market such as online sales, the food service sector, convenience channels and product development and innovation opportunities that would enable you to sell fruit based products into markets bypassing phytosanitary restrictions.
As a matter of course, I’m sure many growers/exporters deliver on these points and more but it’s important to revisit these opportunities, particularly when the trading environment becomes more difficult and the all-important price factor dominates negotiations.
Apples aren’t the flavour of the month, but have become a year–round staple. A degree of consumer complacency around the category has set in, so we all need to work together, both domestically and internationally, to promote all the apple attributes so they don’t become the forgotten fruit, overlooked in favour of shinier, newer, more glamourous fruits and snacking options.
On the pear front, there were far fewer pears on display. At last year’s Asia Fruit Logistica, I was overwhelmed by the number of Conference pears on show but their presence this year was not as noticeable. The Americans and the South Africans both had strong pear displays with blush pears featuring, no doubt destined for the Asian market. Freshmax showcased the Piqa®Boo® pear and from all reports the pear was really well received. The 2016 Australian pear exports are tracking well with export sales 43 per cent up on the same period as last year, driven by strong increases in sales to Indonesia and to a lesser extent Thailand. With very positive results gained from the consumer insights testing of the Deliza® and Lanya® pears in Indonesia and Thailand, here’s hoping Australia can maintain and grow our pear export sales as there appears to be a renewed interest in the pear category.
Finally, it was great to see so many Australian apple and pear growers and exporters at this year’s Asia Fruit Logistica, with representatives from Lenswood Co-op, Hansen Orchards, Scott Bros, Tenfarms, Wintersun, Freshmax, Red Rich Fruits, Jeftomson, Montague, N&A Group, Newton Orchards, AFPC Exports and of course the Pink Lady® contingent. This level of industry representation demonstrates an ever increasing acknowledgement that Australian growers and exporters need to secure export sales opportunities rather than relying on the domestic market alone.
The APAL stand was located with all the other Australian exhibitors under the Australia Fresh banner, managed and coordinated by Hort Innovation. There was a steady and significant stream of traffic through the Australian pavilion and the area had a good feel to it. The APAL stand is a great place to meet, display fruit and use as a base for all Australian growers visiting the fair but already we are planning for next year and providing feedback to Hort Innovation for a more open layout that would be more conducive for effective meetings and showcasing the product.
For those who attended, I hope your investment pays off and fingers crossed for the on-going devaluation of the AUD to help move Australian apples and pears.