Brand-owners – including Premier Foods which owns Mr Kipling – have been warned the Bramley harvest, which got underway in England last week, threatens to be around half last year’s crop.
Phil Acock, md of Fourayes Farm in Kent, warned: “The supermarkets are relaxing the size parameters for Bramley, so we will be competing for fruit on every level. We are expecting it to be in the region of double last year’s price.”
Fourayes is the single biggest Bramley apple buyer in the UK, processing 10–11,000t of fruit annually through its hot and cold mix fruit filling and aseptic purée lines.
Passing on the costs
“We are going to have to pass those costs on and they are not going to like it,” said Acock.
He predicted the total harvest would be 60–70,000t, compared with 112,000t marketed in 2011 – signalling a return to shortages not seen since 2003.
“General quality in the orchards looks good with quite good shape, but there is a higher risk of rots in store,” he added.
A warm, sunny start to the growing season was blighted by unseasonable cold in April and May followed by hail and torrential rain, leaving some orchards so badly damaged that growers in Northern Ireland, one of the worst affected areas, could face grubbing.
Adrian Barlow, chief executive of trade association English Apples and Pears, said the overall crop, while low in volume and individual fruit size, was showing excellent taste. But prices on the shelves were likely to rise by nearly a fifth.
The Bramley, a uniquely British variety of culinary apple, is much sought after by manufacturers for heritage brands. It first began appearing on supermarket own-label products in the ‘90s as a guarantee of provenance.
Production, which is almost exclusively for home consumption, has steadily increased, leading to downward pressure on prices.
A contraction in volumes following this year’s harvest would be no bad thing, said Acock.
“We are probably going to see a few years when the crop will be on the tight side. Supply has outstripped demand and that has caused the market to be over-supplied. We should see some seasons where it’s a bit more balanced,” he said.
“The Irish supply needs to shrink. They have grown too much for their market – the tonnage is not far behind England’s and they haven’t the sales for that.”
However, some food manufacturers are already experiencing supply problems because of the poor crop.
David Rawstron, operations manager at Poole's Pies in Wigan, said he had been forced to find additional Bramley apple fruit filling suppliers, in both England and Northern Ireland.
Poole's makes own-label pies and crumbles for Iceland.