Movable wires are needed in growing these RosyGlo apple whips because of the wind in the Provence region of France.
A handful of French nurserymen had the foresight 40 years ago to understand the importance that global networking and the role variety developer would have in the fruit breeding world. Today, Star Fruits is a key player in obtaining, developing, and promoting tree fruit varieties in Europe.
Philippe Toulemonde of Toulemonde Nursery, located in southeastern France in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, is the current chair of Star Fruits. His father, who helped found the organization in 1968, served as the first leader of the group that now comprises five nurseries from southeastern France—Cros-Viguier, Demol, Du Val d’Or, Toulemonde, and Veauvy. Star Fruits was originally organized to improve the stone fruit industry by developing a range of peach and nectarine varieties for European growers, Toulemonde explained. It has expanded its focus to all tree fruit and is now a variety developer, providing breeder’s rights protection, field evaluations, agronomic and economic information to growers, and promotion. The slogan of Star Fruits is "adding value to fruit."
"The business structure of Star Fruits is based on the French liberal system of organized freedom," Toulemonde said to a group of international tree fruit growers attending a study tour in France last summer. Star Fruits obtains licenses (Community Plant Variety Rights) within the European Union; member nurseries are then sublicensed to sell patented varieties.
"Each nursery is responsible for their own sales and accounting," he said, adding that the five nurseries share in things like variety research and catalogues. "We are competitors in the French market, but we have the same range of fruit varieties and same range of products. Moreover, we work together on the overseas market."
Around the world
In the 1990s, Star Fruits joined the Associated International Group of Nurseries to further develop relationships with fruit breeders around the world. AIGN gives Star Fruits greater access to information and varieties as well as the ability to implement a promotion and distribution policy for a wide range of varieties.
"The goal of Star Fruits was to introduce new material by experimenting with that material," he said. "When the new material was well adapted for France and Europe, Star Fruits would supply the industry with the new selections."
They quickly learned after introducing new peach and nectarine varieties that as production increased, the value of a new variety decreased. A new approach to the traditional way of releasing new varieties was needed.
When Pink Lady was trademarked and a marketing group formed in 1997, the idea of managed varieties was new to the French growers, Toulemonde said. "In the beginning, a lot of growers and industry focused on the limitations on grafting trees and thought that those involved were ‘only in it for me,’" he said.
As regions within France and Italy began competing against each other for Pink Lady sales, they realized that if they wanted to keep market share in Europe for a new variety, they had to invest in promotion and marketing, with industry working together.
As well as being associated with Pink Lady in Europe, Star Fruits also helped develop managed European programs for Orangered Star apricot; Nectavigne, a nectarine with red-purple flesh; and the Sundowner apple.
Pink Lady Europe
The Pink Lady Europe Association, originally organized by nurseries, is now managed by a board of directors made up of growers, nursery representatives, and marketers.
The variety is open to all growers in Europe, Toulemonde said, but they must sign a contract agreeing to grow only trees that were purchased, bring fruit to selected marketing organizations, and respect practices that will result in high quality fruit.
Production of the new variety rose rapidly because growers were not limited in the number of trees they could plant, he said. Tree sales quickly reached 400,000 in a year, increasing volume by 10,000 tons each year, which was a big increase in volume for a young marketing organization.
In Europe, 120 packing houses are approved to pack and ship Pink Lady, and 15 marketing firms are licensed to use the Pink Lady brand. The apple is produced by 2,500 growers on approximately 3,160 hectares (7,900 acres) in France, Spain, and Italy. The apple is grown only in areas that have a long growing season.
Estimated volume of Pink Lady produced in Europe in 2008 was 100,000 tons, representing about 4 percent of the apples consumed, he said. Pink Lady Europe, with an annual budget of 6 million euros (U.S.$9.6 million), is developing markets in Germany and the United Kingdom. Sales from the 2007 crop increased 12 percent from the previous year.
With a decade of experience, Pink Lady Europe is "working well," said Toulemonde, noting that they have all the energy of the marketers, nurseries, and growers involved in the Pink Lady Europe group. "Any grower can get involved, but they have to ‘get into the channel.’ You’re free to go in, but after that you have to follow everybody."
One weak link in Pink Lady Europe is the large number of entities packing the fruit, he said. "With 120 packing houses involved, you have 120 different ways of packing and maintaining fruit quality. If we were to do it again, we’d have fewer packing houses, because it would be easier to manage."
Maintaining quality, particularly color, is an important part of Pink Lady Europe. A quality control team checks the packing and grading at each packing facility to ensure that color standards are upheld.
Quality is segmented into three tiers or grades. The top grade is labeled under the trademark Pink Lady and must have 40 percent or more coloration; second-grade apples are trademarked Flavor Rose and must be 30 to 40 percent colored; apples with the minimum amount of color, 20 to 40 percent, are sold under the Cripps Pink name.