In India, 80 percent of apples are sold at roadside stands. Traders say Washington apples hold up well in such conditions because of their quality.
If you are a seasoned traveler, then India is a special destination with conflicting divisions of life, the smells and sounds of unrelenting humanity changing at an unbelievable pace, and historical and aesthetic beauty unabated.
For the first-time traveler or someone not aware of the vast poverty, India can tear at your heart and leave you in disbelief, asking why and how? And reflecting back to my past in apple sales, it is reminiscent of the late 1980s when the Washington apple was the number-one produce item at retail—the category leader.
Having traveled on behalf of Washington’s 3,000 apple growers for over 20 years, I have seen Washington apples introduced into new markets with unbridled passion. Importers, wholesalers, retailers, and consumers are excited about the promise of the "Best Apples on Earth," and we deliver over and over again to meet their expectations. As markets mature, Washington apples remain a constant and mainstay in the produce section. Other items come into play, leaving Washington as the cornerstone of the produce section—the model of success that all new items want to follow. India’s status as a new and emerging market for Washington apples can only be compared to Taiwan over 25 years ago.
If you think of sheer numbers, India is the second-largest world economy with 1.1 billion potential Washington apple consumers. Growth of its gross national product has been in the double digits for the last five years, with rising incomes fostering a middle class of 200 to 300 million consumers—almost equal to the entire population of the United States. The economic indicators show an emerging market, but shipments of Washington apples since 2003 give us a look into the huge potential for Washington’s apple growers.
Washington has been shipping apples to India for almost ten years now, and up until the 2003 crop, India was below the radar in terms of volume potential. That year India imported just 162,798 cartons, of which 96 percent were Red Delicious. In just four short years, India surpassed the 1.4-million-carton mark and rocketed to our fourth-largest export market. This crop year, the volume has decreased due to a smaller crop of Red Delicious, but even with prices over $20 f.o.b. per carton, demand in India continues to outpace supply.
To the benefit of Washington’s changing varietal supplies, India has reacted positively to the Gala and Granny Smith varieties. In fact, this season has shown that India can import nine different varieties from Washington. Red Delicious remains prominent, accounting for 86 percent of Washington’s exports to India, but Gala and Granny Smith are becoming more of a factor. The remaining volume is made up of Braeburn, Fuji, Cameo, Cripps Pink, and Golden Delicious.
With retail still in its infancy, we expect the varietal interest to increase quickly with the expansion of the retail trade. Today, retail represents only 20 percent of total apple sales to consumers, with the remaining 80 percent sold via the roadside stand. The large volume of apples sold outside the retail sector speaks volumes to Washington’s biggest sales attribute—quality. Over and over during my recent visit I heard praises of Washington’s exceptional quality. "Your apples stay good for five to eight days without refrigeration," they would say. Believe me, this is a feat since temperatures often get above 90 degrees with over 80 percent relative humidity.
The comparative factor for consumers is the Indian-grown Red Delicious—yes, Red Delicious. India has a well-established local production, but packaging and quality are often suspect. This provides a direct comparison for Washington, and we win every time!
The potential of India is only comparable to China in sheer volume, and we are just at the tip of the iceberg as far as realizing the potential. Although India is a country of those that have and those that have nothing, without question the people of India are the diamonds in the rough—all 1.1 billion of them. My only concern is having enough Red Delicious to fill the demand, and I consider this a good problem to have!