A stone certainty

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Michael Barker

BY MICHAEL BARKER

@michaelbarker

A stone certainty

Despite significant price rises across the category and a number of weather-related production issues, the stonefruit sector is enjoying highly encouraging growth

A stone certainty

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The price has most definitely been right for stonefruit suppliers in the past year. With the weather affecting crops in a number of key regions, the category has seen 5.6 per cent price inflation at UK retailers, adding over £20 million to the category’s value [Kantar Worldpanel, 52 w/e 20 May].

It seems higher prices could well be set to continue given ongoing weather problems. In Spain, Catalonia’s stonefruit harvest is substantially down thanks to inclement weather and poor fruit set, with the latest forecast from Afrucat pointing to a 17 per cent fall in output to 471,430 tonnes.

The biggest falls come in nectarines (-19 per cent to 207,310t) and flat peaches (-18 per cent to 127,560t), but round and clingstone peaches are also down 13 and 12 per cent, with the crops expected to weigh in at 114,250t and 22,310t respectively.

In Italy, the peach and nectarine crop is expected to be around 1.1mt this season, just below 16 per cent down on last year’s record volume, though that at least offers the country’s producers and exporters some hope of a stable market following recent episodes of highly damaging oversupply.

Elisa Macchi of Italian organisation CSO described it as a “more balanced” forecast, with decreased output more or less throughout the Italian peninsula resulting from recent poor weather.

In Emilia-Romagna, Italy’s largest stonefruit supplier, volumes are expected to be 15 per cent down on the previous season, with a 10 per cent fall in both Piedmont and Veneto.

Speaking at the recent Macfrut trade fair in Rimini, Macchi commented: “In the south we estimate a decrease of 33 per cent for the earliest harvest, 15 per cent in the early period and 25 per cent for late peaches.”

Despite these production challenges, the good news is that it doesn’t seem to be affecting sales, with plenty of signs that the wider stonefruit offer is resonating with consumers. A 1.4 per cent increase in volume sales is good news given the price hikes, and with purchase frequency also up by 2.1 per cent there is much to cheer.

Cherries are continuing their upward curve and are growing their share of the stonefruit category, thanks in no small part to increased plantings and investment from growers. Newer varieties such as Sentennial and Sequoia have also extended the season, according to Berry Gardens’ chief executive Jacqui Green. “We are anticipating double-digit growth this season with good size fruit, and we will be picking within the next few weeks,” she added. “We anticipate volume will increase due to several factors including the Giselle rootstock, increased covered production and varietal development extending the season.”

Technology is also boosting the production sector, with Sarah Neaves of grower AR Neaves in Kent reporting that installing an optical grader has led to the tripling of packing speed at the company’s packhouse.

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