Agri Business

As imports zoom, India set to emerge as the largest buyer of Washington Apples

Amrita Nair Ghaswalla Mumbai | Updated on December 23, 2014 Published on December 23, 2014


Shipments into the country from the US may rise to 3.5 million boxes

A record crop of apples from Washington is set to make its way to India. Stemilt Growers, one of the largest growers and exporters of Washington apples in the US, has been keenly watching the Indian market for growth opportunities. William Young, Sales Director at Stemilt Growers, is convinced that India could rival Canada in exports of apples from the US.

“Two seasons ago, we had a similar situation with our record crop of apples. Then, India turned out to be a bigger export market than Canada. This year too, India could rival Canada in exports,” Young told BusinessLine, during a recent visit to Mumbai.

Currently, India ranks third, behind Mexico and Canada. Young said that the Indian market was an ideal one as small sizes and grades sell easily here. “However, the Indian consumer is very price conscious,” he said.

Imported apples generally tend to retail at ₹120 a kg at the APMC (Agricultural Produce Market Committee) market. However, by the time the apples reach the consumer, either through retail or e-commerce sites, the mark-up is as high as 100 per cent.

Exporting to the Indian market for the past 15 years, Stemilt partnered with IG International, an importer and marketer of fruits. “Washington State is known for producing high quality apples,” said Tarun Arora, Director, IG International. “Compared to Stemilt’s 20,000-plus acres under production, the largest orchard grower in India has only around 100 acres. Production in India is around 80 million cartons. Stemilt’s total production would be 20 per cent of the entire production of the Indian market.”

Rise in production

In Washington, there has been an increase in production in a lot of new varieties of apples.

“From last year’s crop, we exported a total of 125 million cartons of apples from Washington,” said Young. “This year, it could easily go up to 150 million cartons.

Of the 125 million cartons, India had taken about three million cartons. This year, we should be able to ship around 3.5-4 million boxes to India,” said Young.

From a minuscule figure a few years ago, India’s annual import of fresh fruit currently stands at around $250 million (around ₹1,500 crore) and is steadily growing.

Stemilt exported 60,000 boxes of pears and 12,000 boxes of cherries to India last year, apart from apples. Given the record Fuji apple crop in Washington, Young says there is a huge opportunity to stock retail shelves in southern India.

“The bigger size of reds (apples) go to northern India, but their retail presentation is not great. South India has a good presentation,” said Young, adding, “India’s retail market is still developing. Retailers here are afraid of throwing away fruits from their shelves, despite black marks on them.” Speaking about investments at Stemilt, Young said, “We invest million of dollars in our cold storage packing. There is no branding of our apples, since there are 15 different shippers in the US who ship Red Delicious (apples). Many are low-cost producers and prices may vary.”

Stemilt is also keen on educating the consumer. “In the US market, we work with the retailers in store displays. Consumers can scan the QR code and learn about the particular grower. There is a lot of education dedicated to the consumer. We are one of the largest organic producers in the US and were one of the first ones to put a sticker on the apple, which has become a norm in the industry,” he said.

Consumer education

In a similar missive, Stemilt Growers and IG International launched the ‘Apples for Health’ campaign.

Designed to promote the health benefits of eating apples, and also make people aware of the different varieties of apples, the campaign was launched in Hyderabad and Bangalore.

Stemilt Growers and IG International are to also work together in areas such as temperature-controlled warehousing and packaging and transportation of fresh fruit.

Published on December 23, 2014
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