APAL’s Claire Fitchett helped host a visit of Pink Lady™ apple importers from Asia recently and explores here the future opportunities in the region to increase exports of Australia’s leading apple.
For the second year in a row APAL hosted a group of ten Pink Lady™ apple importers and retailers from Asia. The delegates represented companies from Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and China. All the buyers are currently importing, or are keen to start importing, Australian Pink Lady apples. Many also have experience handling Pink Lady apples from other markets, including France, South Africa and the USA.
After the success we had last year with the inaugural Asian Pink Lady visiting delegation, this was a great opportunity to invite more buyers to Australia to see the fruit being harvested and packed, meet the growers and exporters and learn more about what Australia has to offer. This significantly increases buyers’ appreciation of the product and the likelihood of purchasing. After all, this is the home of the world-famous Pink Lady apple and buyers are keen to really understand what makes Australian Pink Lady apples so great. The Australian product can be more expensive than Pink Lady apples from other markets but once buyers see the product for themselves they understand that the higher colour, sweeter-tasting premium Australian fruit will command a stronger retail price in Asia. Quality is ultimately what sells more fruit, not price.
Before the official program started, I took half of the group to Tasmania where we saw Pink Lady and other apple varieties for export. Buyers from China were especially keen to talk to Baden Ribbon, Marketing Manager from Hansen Orchards about supplying Tasmanian apples. Hansen Orchards is one of just a few Tasmanian packing sheds registered to export fruit to China.
“Following the success we had with the first airfreight shipment of Royal Gala apples to China in April, we are keen to see our exports to China grow,” said Baden. “The opportunities there are enormous and buyers are keen to focus on the unique Tasmanian story in promoting fruit to consumers.”
Howard Hansen, owner of Hansen Orchards added, “These visiting delegations are really useful for us to make connections with the right people. We are also very keen to try to develop export markets for Pink Lady.”
“Pink Lady which was originally bred in Australia is now the most popular apple in the Australian market and its attractive appearance should also help it to appeal to the Asian consumer,” said Howard.
In Melbourne, APAL ran a briefing session for the buyers on the benefits and characteristics of Australian Pink Lady apples. There was a lot of interesting discussion with the buyers keen to learn from each other about their experience in handling and selling Pink Lady apples. All buyers reiterated that promotion and advertising were key to launching and marketing a new apple in Asia. Whilst Pink Lady is not a new apple brand, it is just starting to gain popularity in Asian markets.
Similarly, the buyers stressed that given Pink Lady has a different taste profile to other apples it’s important to run taste testing in supermarkets to let consumers try before they buy. APAL-coordinated promotions of Australian Pink Lady apples in Malaysia last year proved this was correct, with sampling and promotions key to selling 5 containers of apples in a few weeks.
The delegation visited the Melbourne Wholesale Market as well as the impressive new Nine Mile Fresh packing shed in Tynong, an hour from Melbourne. The highly automated and sophisticated technology at Nine Mile Fresh certainly left a positive impression in the minds of the buyers that the Australian apple industry is open and ready for business! A visit to Montague’s orchards in Narre Warren was also a hit, with buyers able to pick and taste their own Pink Lady apples. Montague Fresh have been successfully exporting premium Pink Lady apples to the UK and Asia for several years.
Debbie Koay from Chop Tong Guan (recipient of the 2013 AsiaFruit ‘Importer of the Year’ award) said she could instantly see and taste the difference of Australia’s Pink Lady apples.
“The colour is exceptional and really appeals to our customers,” said Debbie. “Whilst the flavour profile of a Pink Lady is different to other varieties in the market there is demand for something a bit unique and Pink Lady fills that space. However, the price must also be right in order for us to order bigger volumes. There is a lot of competition in the apple category in Malaysia so Australian Pink Lady apples must offer consumers something special.”
The group then visited Lenswood Co-operative in the Adelaide Hills. CEO James Walters led the group on a tour through the packing shed and spoke to the buyers about their export focus. Whilst harvest had already finished, the buyers were able to try some of Lenswood’s export grade apples and found them sweet and crunchy – both imperative in the eyes of Asian buyers.
“We supplied fruit to Cold Storage supermarkets in Malaysia last year and the colour and flavour of our Pink Lady apples was critical in driving sales,” said James.
Retail buyer Siti Ramlan from Dairy Farm Group in Kuala Lumpur (which includes Giant, Cold Storage and Jason’s brands) participated in the visit as she wanted to gain a better understanding of the quality characteristics and origin of the apples.
“We loved the apples we sold last year from Lenswood and we’re keen to grow our orders this season if the price and quality are right,” said Ms Ramlan.
Pink Lady represents more than a third of our nation’s crop. And for good reason. It is a premium, delicious apple that has a strong consumer following and generally attracts a high retail price domestically. With more Pink Lady tree plantings and grafting occurring in most growing regions it is important to think about the future of this apple – where will we sell it all and how can we get the best value out of it?
Asian markets are keen to try new apple varieties to supplement the familiar Fuji apples that dominate shelves. Not to mention the power of a good brand in Asia. Pink Lady is unique in that it is one of just a few branded horticulture products – we should exploit this opportunity to grow our exports. It seems the opportunities in Asia are there for the picking.
Don’t forget, Pink Lady apples must be handled by a licenced Pink Lady exporter and importer. Click here to contact one of the current Australian licence holders if you would like to export Pink Lady apples.
This inbound delegation was partially funded by HAL project AP11023, a joint initiative of APAL and the Department of Environment and Primary Industries, Victoria, to increase the exports of Australian apples and pears to Asia.