Growing Futures

Delivering superior apples

Delivering superior apples

Making sure apples are harvested with the right dry matter concentration ensures premium quality for the consumer

The New Zealand apple industry exports $360 million of apples each year, mostly to premium markets in the UK, Europe and the Americas. In the mid-2000s, an oversupply of apples in world markets led to increasing commoditisation of products, reducing the return on apple exports. Ensuring New Zealand apples deliver a consistently superior eating experience has become increasingly vital in maintaining a premium in these markets, ensuring consumer expectations are met every time they purchase a New Zealand apple.

The value of quality

Consumer research has shown that the sensory quality of fruit – the taste, texture and flavour – can be twice as important as price in determining consumer purchasing decisions. Dry matter concentration (DMC) has been identified as an important indicator of consumer preference, and high DMC at harvest is a reliable measure of taste characteristics – such as sweetness and acidity – and texture – particularly firmness - after storage.

The degree of DMC variability differs across cultivars, with many new cultivars selected specifically for their taste and texture characteristics. However, the DMC of older cultivars such as ‘Royal Gala’ may be highly variable, and fruit with low DMC have a lower value in the global marketplace. Upwards of 55% of the New Zealand apple export crop is now managed using fruit DMC as a quality trait, and since its adoption many producers have seen a marked reduction in product rejection from overseas supermarkets related to quality.

Since ENZA International Ltd, the largest exporter of New Zealand apples, introduced DMC as a quality standard in 2010, no apple shipments have failed fruit specifications in export markets. In the 2011 season, every carton of ‘Royal Gala’ exported by ENZA achieved the £21 premium in the UK market, rather than the £17 wholesale price. This price premium resulted in a benefit of $492,000 to New Zealand, as well as enhancing the brand and reputation of New Zealand apples as being consistently superior.

Achieving high DMC in the orchard

Research is currently underway to determine the genetic, environmental and production factors influencing DMC. Whilst seasonal and regional differences are small, DMC can be affected by light interception, canopy management, crop load and irrigation. Orchard management guidelines have now been developed for growers outlining the optimum cultivar type, soil type and rootstock for maximum DMC at harvest. DMC is also being considered as a screening tool for new selections from the pipfruit breeding programme.

Funding for the research has been through the New Zealand Government-funded ‘Pipfruit – a Juicy Future’ programme supported by in-kind industry co-funding, with additional support from Pipfruit New Zealand and Plant & Food Research Core Funding.

Created: September 2012

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