Dr Heidi Parkes, Horticulturalist with the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, outlines for APAL why she thinks we can increase domestic apple consumption.
There has been a lot of focus in recent years on opening up export markets for Australian apples. And rightly so – there are clearly opportunities for us to increase demand for our produce in overseas markets. But I can’t help but feel that there must also be significant opportunity to increase domestic demand for apples and pears well beyond the 5% target by 2015 as outlined in the industry strategic plan (New Horizons 2015: Apple and Pear Industry Plan – pdf, 451kb).
According to worldwide data, Australians are not passionate apple consumers compared with people in other nations. We eat somewhere between 7.4 kg and 9.9 kg per person each year, depending on the source of the data. This is significantly less than the 14.6 kg that the Kiwis devour, and much, much less than the whopping 25.9 kg of apples per person each year that the Germans manage to demolish. Even if we doubled our apple consumption to somewhere in the vicinity of 19 kg per head we would still be well below consumption rates in Germany.
So this begs the question- why is their demand for apples so much higher than ours?
The ancestral German heritage in me would suggest it is at least in part due to the large amounts of delicious apple-containing strudels and kuchens that are a household staple in that part of the world. But I am not here to suggest we increase domestic demand for our product by simply encouraging Australians to eat more morning tea and dessert. I can think of a number of other reasons why, as a nation, we should eat more apples:
- They are a delicious snack requiring absolutely no preparation.
- They have a good shelf life, particularly if kept in the fridge.
- They are good value, relative to processed snack foods.
- There are health benefits. Recent research from the UK shows that eating an apple a day when you’re over fifty has a similar effect on reducing you’re risk of heart attack and stroke as taking a common cholesterol lowering drug. If we do the calculations, one apple a day is 0.16kg/day or 1.12kg/week or 58.24kg/year. That’s a 6 to 7 fold increase in domestic demand!
- Versatility. Apples are fantastic when cooked and can be used in a myriad of ways. In some parts of Europe, a bowl of stewed apple is a constant in the fridge and is used for adding flavour to all sorts of dishes, both savoury and sweet.
Clearly, to increase demand for a product, the quality has to be there. With such a wide selection of food, both fresh and processed to choose from, Australian consumers can afford to be picky when it comes to selecting what they put in their fridges and pantries each week. While there is always room for improvement I don’t actually think we do too badly in this regard. In my household this week, the kids and I have been devouring fabulously crunchy, sweet and juicy ‘Sundowner’ apples with fervour (a highly underrated variety in my opinion). These must have been picked over six months ago but you would never have known it. And here we are in January, preparing to start the 2014 ‘Gala’ harvest in a few weeks time. How many other fresh produce industries can offer such quality, produced locally, all year round?
There is no doubt that we have a fantastic product to sell. And yes, we need to open up and secure export markets, but let us not underestimate the possibilities for increasing consumer demand for apples here in Australia.