NGK Trading has been introducing Pink Lady apples to the Indian market over recent weeks, after becoming the first licensed importer of the branded apple in India on 1 April.

Pink Lady might not have appeared the ideal variety for the Indian market where the traditional preference is for high-colour sweet red apples, but NGK Trading CEO Gagan Khosla says his company has been very encouraged by the consumer response (link to audio interview below).

“We were trying to introduce a variety with a different colour, crunch and taste to what is normally available. Pink Lady was the ideal fruit for that,” Khosla told Asiafruit during last week’s Fresh Produce India event in Mumbai. “Plus, with production ramping up now in most continents and pricing becoming more reasonable and affordable to the Indian consumer, it’s started to make inroads. People actually like it and the sales are brisk.”

Besides increasing production levels, the other key factor paving the way for Pink Lady’s introduction has been the absence of Chinese apples, which lost access to the Indian market last June. Pink-skinned Chinese Fuji apples had become a fixture on Indian street stalls and retail shelves, and bi-coloured apples from the US and other origins have been performing well on the back of their exit, Khosla noted.

“Gala has done very well, Fuji [from the US] is doing reasonably well and Pink Lady just waltzed in. There was a gap in the market that they filled. Most of these other club varietals are expensive and could not meet the demand.”

Pink Lady has a somewhat different flavour profile to Fuji or Gala. While acknowledging there was some initial resistance from Indian consumers, Khosla said it was short-lived. “The first few weeks there were a few complaints of ‘it’s tart, it’s tart’, but people have started appreciating the different taste it brings. It’s not tart like a Granny Smith – it’s just a crisper, fresher apple – and people are adapting to it.”

NGK has begun with trial volumes of one container load a week, but Khosla said it hopes to build this up to three or four containers a week next year, depending on whether Chinese apples regain entry.

The importer has been trialling Pink Lady all over the country. “We’ve been selling them in Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore,” he said. “We even sent samples to the east and Calcutta, and in central India in towns like Indore, they love those Pink Ladies.”

NGK is currently sourcing Pink Lady from Washington under agreed conditions. US grower-packer-shipper Oneonta Trading was instrumental in setting up the programme. South African supplier TruCape has also been a keen instigator, and with Chile and South Africa now coming online with Pink Lady, the importer expects to source more from these origins in the coming months.

Promotional activities for Pink Lady in India could also be on the horizon. Khosla said plans will be discussed with brand owner Apple and Pear Australia (APAL) at the end of the season, depending on sales volumes and other factors.

APAL’s head of commercial and brand development Craig Chester said the industry body was very supportive of NGK’s efforts at trade level in India. “We selected NGK as a licensed importer as they showed the willingness to invest their own time and resource into developing the brand and upholding and protecting the Pink Lady quality standards. They also have the mechanisms in-market to deliver,” he said.

APAL is in the process of registering another licensed Pink Lady importer in India but Chester said it would limit import partners to a select few. “We want our licensed importers to build a business they can feel ownership of,” he said.

APAL saidtheIndian market wasstrategically important to further developing the global reach of the Pink Lady brand. “We see great untapped potential in India but we also recognise the challenges,” Chester noted. “People may look at India’s large middle classseeking high quality imported produce, and the big population there, and think it’s so easy.But our global experience has taught us unless you first understand the nuances of purchase behaviour and the trading culture then potential can easily go unrealised. We know there’s plenty to do, but we’re up for it and we’ll keep working at it.”