W. Australian apple growers moving processing to Chennai

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Imported apples from Western Australia being graded at a cold store in Poonamallee near Chennai. Bijoy Ghosh
Imported apples from Western Australia being graded at a cold store in Poonamallee near Chennai. Bijoy Ghosh

R. Balaji

Chennai, June 13

APPLE import trade from Australia has taken a step forward with some of the growers from Western Australia shifting post-harvest processing to the buyers here.

Rather than the conventional exports of apples in branded packs, growers now prefer to export in bulk and leave the processing to the importers here who have access to cheap labour. This arrangement is working to the advantage of the exporters and importers, with both enjoying improved margins.

According to Mr Sudhakar Chauhan, Managing Director, SFC International Marketing, the importer who has entered into an exclusive agreement with growers in Western Australia and the Agriculture Department of Western Australia, the new arrangement offers a more competitive option when compared to conventional imports of apples in cartons.

There is an advantage of about Rs 120 (about A$4) on each wholesale pack of 22 kg. That is about Rs 1.3 lakh cheaper on a 40-foot container that holds nearly 60 bulk bins, each carrying 450 kg of apples. That price difference can bowl the competition over, he says.

In Poonamallee, on the outskirts of Chennai, the apples are graded, sorted and packed in wholesale cardboard packs of 25 kg each under an Australian brand, Cricket.

A worker in a processing unit in Australia would earn about Rs 2,500 a day. Here, for the same work Mr Chauhan engages a worker for Rs 5,000 a month. The packaging material, cardboard trays and boxes, the outer printed covers are all cheaper than in Australia, but match the quality. Also, being an apple grower himself with orchards in Himachal Pradesh and that he can bring in graders and sorters with decades experience in the business has also helped, he said.

They had tried the new model last season when two container loads of Hi-Early and Royal Galla apples were imported. This had worked to the satisfaction of the sellers and buyers, and this year, over 15 container loads were coming in with apples in bulk bins. Next year, this quantity will be doubled, according to Mr Chauhan.

Also, this import arrangement is being extended to Mumbai where Mr Chauhan plans to set up processing facilities this season and later in Delhi.

(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated June 14, 2005)
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