Huge increases in production costs are not being reflected in growers’ returns, according to trade body
Trade body British Apples & Pears Limited (BAPL) has published a new set of data that highlights the ongoing struggles for beleaguered UK topfruit growers.
Over the two years since 2021, British apple growers faced 30 per cent increases in costs of production and received just 8 per cent increases in returns from supermarkets.
In 2022, growers faced cost of production increases of 23 per cent and “practically static” returns from supermarkets that year of just 0.8 per cent, the figures show.
And in 2023, British apple growers faced 6-9 per cent cost-of-production increases and received an average of 7 per cent increases in returns from UK supermarkets.
The full set of data is described by BAPL as the largest ever released at one time by the industry..
“This situation is unsustainable,” said BAPL executive chair Ali Capper. “The industry is on a knife edge. I’ve never heard such desperation from our members. When you think about what a good news story our industry should be, it’s heartbreaking. Apples are a superfood – great for our health, the environment and our rural economy.
“The volatility in costs has become the biggest challenge faced by growers, many of them out of their control from labour and energy to the ever-increasing cost of the audit burden. We should not be talking about the slow decline of British apple orchards, and generations of family farm businesses at risk of bankruptcy.”
BAPL released a series of comments by apple growers who completed its survey, to highlight the stark situation many of them face. They include:
- “I’m retiring from growing apples and my son doesn’t want to touch them. He’s seen the returns.”
- “As a younger solo grower having taken on the fruit farm, I am incredibly frustrated at how little the supermarkets are willing to pay, whilst also increasing ‘hoops’ to jump through.”
- “The industry is in crisis. The price setters are killing us.”
- “I have been growing fruit for over 40 years and never found it so difficult.”
- “Prices have stagnated for the last five years.”
The trade body says that confidence in British apple growing is currently very low, with 70 per cent of growers stating they are less confident than they were a year ago.
Only 3 per cent of growers said they have a ‘true partnership’ with supermarkets, while 45 per cent say retailers only buy on price and that it’s not a true partnership.
Almost half (45 per cent) of respondents said they have scaled back their future investment plans.
“Ultimately, it’s not just British growers that are losing out, it’s UK shoppers too,” Capper said.
“According to The Grocer’s analysis of Assosia data, in the two years from November 2021 to November 2023, the price of apples has increased significantly with the average price in Aldi rising by 12.6 per cent, Lidl 12.1 per cent, Tesco by 10.9 per cent and Sainsbury’s by 9.1 per cent.
”Together these four retailers sell over 70 per cent of all British apples and pears. And the averages hide some startling extremes. Lidl’s Oaklands Red Apples 2kg went up by 50 per cent, Morrisons British Apples (six pack) went up 39 per cent and Tesco increased the price of its Rosedene Farms Gala apples (six pack) by 36 per cent.
“Unfortunately, those consumer price increases are not being matched by the much-needed returns to growers.”
Critical changes needed
In response to the crisis in the industry, BAPL has set out three critical changes needed to save British apple orchards. It says that firstly, supermarkets need to increase returns to growers to reflect the true cost of production and necessary investment.
Secondly, supermarkets must enter longer-term arrangements with growers to give farmers the confidence to grow the perennial crop, invest in much-needed technology, varieties and automation.
And thirdly, supermarkets should put action behind their words of support for British farming with in-store and online merchandising that celebrates British fruit.
The BAPL data is not all bad news, the growers’ association added, with several supermarkets having undertaken excellent promotional work to celebrate the start of the current British apple season. This has included TV advertising by Lidl , print ads and social media farmer profiles by Waitrose and an email campaign, point-of-sale and social media posts by Marks & Spencer.
The promotional support for British apples has resulted in excellent October British apple sales results for some supermarkets, as reported by BAPL in November. Lidl in particular significantly outperformed its market share, selling more than any other supermarket in October (3,030 tonnes).
However BAPL also noted that a number of UK supermarkets have been slower to get behind British apples this season and have instead been importing apples from overseas at a time when UK fruit is in plentiful supply.