A breeding programme in Norway has borne fruit, with pears that appear to blush. Sensing a huge potential to market the blushing beauties in India early next year, Kris Wouters, co-owner of Belgium-based Fruithandel Wouters that has been operating for over four generations, is gingerly testing the market.

Aptly called QTee, the red blush pear does not have any discolouration on its skin, commonly called russeting, and is unlike the well-known Conference variety of pear from Belgium.

“The first trial fruit pallets, containing QTee and some other Belgian pears, will be sent to India the next season,” Wouters told BusinessLine . “We have planted a lot of trees over the last two winters, and production is set to increase,” he added.

Belgium is one of India’s important trading partners in the European Union. After years of ‘overcoming the bureaucratic challenges of market access,’ many exporters are looking to enter India with their new varieties of fruit and vegetables.

Closed market

As Russia has banned fruit imports from the EU, importers have been eager to crack the Indian and the Chinese markets to counter the export slowdown from their region.

Russia has been the most important market for Belgium pears. Stating that his company had not yet exported any fruit to China, Wouters explained that some other Belgian companies were doing so for a couple of years and that volumes were slowly increasing, which gave an indication to the inherent market potential. “Russia was our main market for pears. In future, it will be India and China, and of course we will continue to sell in the European market,” he said. The main markets for Belgium pears are Spain, France, Germany (which incidentally increased quite a lot this year), Scandinavia, UK, and Poland among others.

The aim is to market a blushed pear when there are no Forelles available from South Africa, which are only available between March and August. QTee is available in the period in between, and has reportedly even got growers in South Africa showing interest.

Higher dollar

Wouters insists that fruits from Belgium are set to score over those imported from the US.

Mixed US economic data has been pushing the dollar higher. As the US dollar rises significantly over the past few weeks, Wouters states that the higher dollar is bound to dent US pear imports to India.

The Pear Bureau Northwest, a US marketing organisation, had earlier told BusinessLine that the 2014 pear crop was its second largest crop, and that India was a huge market for exports.

Dismissing the fact that the US has enjoyed a steady increase in pear shipments to India over the past five years, Wouters said, “It is not only the volume of pears that are available in the USA that is of importance, but also the USD/Euro rate. The very strong dollar has ensured that we have a higher chance than ever before of meeting Indian consumers expectations of good quality pears,” said Wouters.

Apples & pears

Stating that there existed a “very big potential for our pears” in India, Wouters said, “First of all, we need to market Conference pears in India, and in the immediate future, the QTee. At the moment, we are in the midst of a promotional activity, whereby we are educating Indian consumers about the excellent taste of the Conference pear.”

Maintaining that the main pear variety from Belgium was the Conference pear, Wouters explained it was also the most popular variety in Europe and in Russia. “What is prominent about the Conference pear is its excellent taste and its longer lasting properties. But to introduce Conference pears in a new market is not easy, because of the typical russeting (skin discolouration).”

He added that Indian consumers are used to pears without russeting, “and that is why they do not like Conference. But we are sure once they get used to the taste, they will buy it again. We have shipped some limited volume of Conference pears to India in the past season. We also shipped some Alexander Lucas (pear), which was more successful, as it is a pear with no russeting.”

Though he did not give out specific statistics, Wouters said around 15 containers with 20,000 kg each of the fruit had been shipped to India.