India—The Apple of Our Eye
Just eight years ago, our industry didn't even track apple shipments to India. Today, it's the fourth largest importer of Washington apples behind Mexico, Canada, and Taiwan. It is the second largest Red Delicious market, surpassed only by Mexico (see "2006-2007 Washington Red Delicious sales).
Take a step back into Washington's recent apple history to 1999. Our total crop was less than 82 million and Red Delicious accounted for 51 percent of the total volume. Gala production was less than half of Golden Delicious. Taiwan imported 3.5 million cartons of Washington apples, and India imported only 19,141 cartons.
Fast forward to 2007, and you'll find a much different scenario. Our crop volume is 98 million cartons with the potential, some argue, of over 110 million. Red Delicious accounts for just a third of the total --varietal mix with Gala, Granny Smith, and Fuji all surpassing Golden Delicious in total volume harvested. Taiwan remains our third largest market, with the primary focus on Fuji and diminishing interest in other Washington varieties. And India imported about 1.4 million boxes of Washington apples during the 2006-2007 season.
The 300 million middle-class consumers are the driving force behind the increase in imports of Washington apples this season. With retail in its infancy, and the assistance of the Washington Apple Commission's representative Keith Sunderlal, the future is promising for Washington apples.
Sunderlal believes India could be a five-million-carton market within five years, with 80 percent of imports being Red Delicious. "Indian consumers have a distinct preference for Red Delicious among the masses," he reports. "Washington has a clear competitive advantage over other Northern---Hemisphere suppliers in our market, and local production isn't expected to see any significant growth in the next five years."
India has not been developed as a dump-off market, Sunderlal notes. Even with record prices the last two seasons, India has proven it can increase shipments and demand. Consumer diversity within the country allows Washington growers to supply large, medium, and small apples throughout the country.
While the vast majority of all Washington apples exported to India are Red Delicious, the Indian consumer has proven to have interest in all Washington varieties. Golden --Delicious, Granny Smith, Gala, Fuji, and several other varieties have made appearances, tantalizing the Indian consumer. As the largest democracy continues to grow, and consumer incomes rise, Washington will play a large role in the changing consumer demand for imported apples.
Reliance Industries, Ltd., has announced plans to invest more than $6 billion in stores throughout India. The stores are opening as India's retail sales surge, rising as much as 35 percent a year, driven by a burgeoning middle class. The supermarket chain's sales will reach $25 billion by 2011, Reliance forecasts. As the retail sector in India rapidly expands, Washington apples are positioned to increase their dominance in the Indian marketplace. India, a relative newcomer to Washington exports, is quickly becoming a major player in the Washington apple industry.