Top fruit group boss hopeful
THE man at the helm of a new marketing group, which will control 50% of the UKs total top fruit industry, believes south east growers can look forward to better times.
Robert Balicki, chairman of the newly formed joint marketing desk between Fruition and EKP says that the market has been tough but growers now have a chance to capitalise on the French beef ban.
Mr Balicki who grows 93ha (230 acres) of apples and pears at North Court Fruit Farm, Old Wives Lees, Kent, explains that when supermarkets pulled French apples from the shelves they filled the spaces with English produce.
And although some growers have tried to play down the effects Mr Balicki believes that it has been significant.
"The effect has lasted all season and been a very major benefit. The industry was a gainer in terms of the shelf space supermarkets gave over to English fruit," he said.
"The top fruit industry needs to capitalise on that and show that the product was good and keep the number of boxes on shelves. The English is a very high quality product but for the industry to be profitable we do need a premium."
With 80% of fruit grown in the UK going to supermarkets a good relationship with the retailers is essential, believes Mr Balicki.
Arguing with supermarkets will do little to help the industry, he maintains. "We have been caught up in supermarket price cutting arena and what we really need to do is persuade them that they shouldnt be involved in cutting the price."
The industry will face some particular problems, he admits. One of which is the decision by the Agricultural Wages Board to set a higher rate for casual workers than the minimum wage.
This means for the greater part of this years picking season growers will have to pay workers at least 13p more than the minimum wage.
"This will really hit the top fruit industry and have huge implications for soft fruit which has a longer season," he said.