this apple has become a real global phenomenon, the reasons?

Bred in Australia, this Pink Lady strain has conquered the world thanks to careful marketing. In Europe, France is the leading producer.

Installed on platforms, seasonal workers pick the last ripe Pink Lady fruit at a very steady pace. Each has to shed 300 pounds an hour, which is the equivalent of cleaning a dozen trees.

Although there was a frost in April, the fruits are beautiful, colorful and fleshy, explains Philippe Chauvet, the farm’s owner. I’ll be getting at least 70 cents a pound, which is 30-50% more than most other apples.

This farmer is enjoying his harvest of Pink Lady, one of the rare strains that allows him to make ends meet in the business. Its sales have doubled in ten years and now represent 8% of the French market by value, knocking Granny Smith from third place on the podium. This pretty gold and scarlet sphere is thriving as one of the most expensive on the shelves, where we see it with its pink packaging and heart-shaped logo (€2.90 per kilo, late 2021, according to Kantar).

Very strong, because large retailers and Spanish, Belgian or Polish imports push down prices, especially those of the popular Gala (1.70 euros per kilo, 35% of the market) and Golden (2 euros, 25%). Competition has reduced the French acreage (-15% in ten years), but the area devoted to this miracle variety is increasing (+78%).

Explanation, three-quarters of Pink Lady’s tricolor production (137,000 tons in 2021) is sold for export. Because the rose is a hit everywhere. It is among the top 3 sales figures in Northern Europe. Worldwide sales are estimated at more than 1.5 billion euros.

It is by far the most important club apple, as experts say, to designate a fruit whose name is a registered trademark that can only be used for royalties. This does not apply to international varieties such as Golden, American Red or Fuji, which are free of rights but whose quality is uncertain because they are less standardized.

The origin of this global apple company lies in the work of John Cripps, a Brit living in Australia and employed by the Perth Department of Agriculture. In 1973 the botanist crossed a Golden Delicious and a Lady Williams.

The hybrid, christened Cripps Pink because of its color, turns out to be particularly crunchy and sweet, virtues appreciated by many consumers. The name Pink Lady emerged in 1979 to characterize the most beautiful examples of the line, which quickly penetrated the domestic market (and still holds 45% of the shares in 2020).

The Department registers the brand and entrusts its international exploitation to Apal, a collective of Australian apple growers. Mission accomplished: over time, the association convinced Chilean, South African and American arborists to cultivate the Pink Lady. Contacts with the French date back to the early 1990s and the first trees were planted from 1994 in the South-East, Loire Valley and South-West.

A few years later, Italian and Spanish producers joined. It really was a crazy gamble to launch an apple brand. But the quality of the fruit and the rigor of its organization have paid off, notes Josselin Saint-Raymond, director of the National Association of Apples and Pears (ANPP), the sector’s main professional body, with admiration.

At the base of the Pink Lady ecosystem in the Old Continent is Star Fruits, a renowned publisher of fruit varieties based in Pontet (Vaucluse). This company is sort of a master franchisee for Australians to whom it pays royalties. How much ? We don’t know, but Apal collects around 15 million euros in license fees worldwide every year.

Star Fruits selects seedlings and cuttings for the ten nurseries it has chosen to prepare and sell the apple trees in France, Spain and Italy.

A very important task, because the plantings need to be renewed regularly – a tree begins to lose vigour, after about fifteen years or more, without changing the aesthetic and taste qualities of the product.

We carry out continuous selection work to maintain and, where possible, improve the quality and homogeneity of the plants, explains Renaud Pierson, General Manager of the company. At Apal’s recommendation, the Star Fruits teams are now using a mutation of the original Cripps called Rosy Glow, which guarantees a more lasting color in the fruit.

The second pillar of the organization is Pink Lady Europe. This growers association, also based in Pontet, oversees the ultra-precise specifications of the fruit, its size, colour, sugar content, firmness and taste. She also manages the planting rights.

In order to keep our premium side, we need to have reasonable growth, summarizes Thierry Mellenotte, the director. In short, joining the club is not easy and membership is currently limited to 700.

Mainly with the help of a budget from the sales of the sector – about 4% of the turnover – Pink Lady Europe monitors the orchards thanks to a team of about twenty technicians who visit each farmer three or four times a year.

It also has a series of plots distributed throughout the different production areas, where the evolution of the fruit is closely monitored (decrease in strength, surface of the coloring and its intensity, etc.), allowing farmers to be informed in real time about the state of growth.

This oversight is not too much because the production of Pink Lady is quite difficult. It is in fact the apple that takes the longest to process before reaching the stands: 7 months of care and 700 hours of manual labor per hectare, or on average 20% more than the other varieties. You can get 30 kilos of Pink Lady quality fruit per tree if you watch them closely, says Philippe Chauvet in his Noves orchard.

Indeed, many meticulous interventions are required – flower selection (only those most exposed to the sun are kept), thinning (removing damaged or deformed fruit), stripping (removing leaves that cast too much shade) …. – which explains why labor accounts for half of the cost of production.

These operations are also complemented by various fertilizers (potassium-based supplement) and phytosanitary treatments (nitrogen, fungicides, insecticides, etc.) that allow to obtain the desired yield and of course eliminate the possibility of designing an organic Pink Lady . But even if we take all the precautions we want, there is always a third of the production that does not fully meet the quality criteria, admits Philippe Chauvet.

The apples are sorted in one of the 84 stations approved by Pink Lady Europe. The apples are placed loosely on a kind of water-filled rail where they move along a current. The fruits pass through scanners that calculate their weight, assess the intensity of their coloring and identify flaws in their clothing. They are then classified according to their size (there are eight in the Pink Lady range, from 80 grams to over 270 grams).

Compote (especially for Materne or Andros) or fruit juice (for Tropicana or private labels) are made from low-quality fruits. At the end of the chain, the fruit is automatically packed. The packaging varies depending on the market, explains François Mestre, co-managing director of Mesfruits in Cavaillon (Vaucluse), one of these apple factories that processes 70,000 tons of apples a year, including 20,000 tons of pink ones. The French prefer to help themselves from trays, the English buy 1-kilo bags, the Germans love small trays with six pieces of fruit.

Mesfruits, which is also one of the 14 authorized distributors in the sector, not only preserves the Pink Lady, but also preserves them: in order to supply the market until June, the apples are stored in chambers at 2 degrees in a nitrogen-filled atmosphere don’t move. What about negotiations with big brands?. We don’t do facade trading, specifies François Mestre. We have a top product that we can use to make a margin for everyone.

We love them at Pink Lady, sums up the fruit and vegetable manager of a Leclerc center in the Pas-de-Calais in unison. They contribute to the life of the department. In fact, the Australian brand is the only one that has developed a real marketing strategy in its niche. Always use slogans aimed at passing it off as a specific food, So much more than an apple or a natural treat. We’ve always used simple lines, pink, references to female customers and the seduction factor, explains Thierry Mellenotte, director of Pink Lady Europe, who also oversees the brand’s promotion.

A budget of around 3% of industry turnover is used for small television campaigns, a rarity in the fruit and vegetable sector. Since our awareness rate is already 85%, we rely more and more on social networks, competitions or educational communication about the benefits of food, he continues.

So is the Pink Lady model duplicable? There’s at least one similar success story also coming from the antipodes, that of New Zealand kiwifruit brand Zespri, which was founded in 1997 and was clearly inspired by the Australian experience. There is room for premium varieties, but it will take time, notes Josselin Saint-Raymond, President of the ANPP. Some are trying their luck and “Club” apples are becoming more and more numerous. They now represent 16% of French production, 6% more than in 2012. But apart from Jazz, which is doing well (31,000 tons in 2021), Joya, Choupette, HoneyCrunch, Tentation and others remain quite marginal. Not easy to imitate the ogre Pink Lady!

pink woman

There is room for improvement in Pink Lady!

With the help of industry players, we have reconstructed the components of the price of a kilo of Pink Lady sold for €2.90 (€2.85 excluding VAT) in supermarkets (average price on shelves at the end of 2021).

It is a fruit grown in an orchard whose plantation has been amortized (2,000 trees over seven years per hectare). The producer receives a margin of EUR 0.30, the Packstation EUR 0.20 and the distributor around EUR 0.50.

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