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Clubs: exhausted or oversized?

Club apples are no longer a guarantee of success. This is one of the main conclusions reached by European experts at the Pomatec congress held in December in the town of Torroella de Montgrí.
pink lady

Apples are the most advanced produce regarding production and commercial structuring as clubs or exclusive products.

The success reached by some of the clubs turned this category into a benchmark for other fruit, which followed the same paths, but to date have not reached the same point of saturation. This is the case of citrus fruit, which with no more than five clubs are a categorical success story.

Some of the experts consulted by this magazine indicate that “what sets a club apart is that it offers a product that is clearly differentiated from those already existing, although in terms of apples a moment has been reached when this is no longer the case and there is an oversupply that does not allow this singularity to be distinguished, even by the professionals.  In this case, the clubs lose their meaning.  Perhaps the time has come to think about a blue apple, which is easily distinguishable, that is pleasing to consumers and is profitable for producers and marketers.”

There are 70 clubs of exclusive apple varieties around the world, with Italy holding 30 of them.

In just a decade, from 2012 to the present day, they have risen from 30 to 70. The improvement programmes continue to boom, with over 100 in progress around the world, both public and private, and they are even sponsored by some supermarkets, according to Walter Guerra, from the Laimburg Research Institute, a worldwide reference organisation.

In 2018, the surface area of club apple varieties reached 38,000 ha in the world and, with all likeliness, this number has doubled by today.

The success of Pink Lady

It might be difficult to repeat the success of Pink Lady, amongst other points, because it was one of the pioneering apples (although not the first one), which, in addition to having some highly special organoleptic qualities, became visible to consumers through important communication campaigns.

Pink Lady is the club apple that is best-known in consumers’ minds: firstly, because from the production and commercial point of view it is an apple that brings differentiating characteristics and, secondly, because its communication campaigns have been very significant over its almost three decades of existence.

Marc Peyres, an executive from Blue Whale indicates that: “not all of them can be club varieties because, in the end, it is the same case as with bio crops – there is more supply than demand.”

Fabio Zanesco, the Sales Manager at VIP comments that: “there are too many club varieties because, with the exception of a few brands, the others do not stand out in the consumers’ minds. The problem lies in that, when consumers go to the supermarket, there are 16 different apple varieties, all of them with a very similar outer appearance and they no longer distinguish between them.”

And from the marketing point of view, M.ª José Millán, from AGR, believes that this overwhelming amount of apples with stickers no longer denote brands, nor do they represent a club, but rather they are just stickers, because a brand is not made by putting a label on a fruit. Other sources believe that in Spain, unlike what is happening in Italy, without important innovation projects such as Fruit Futur, apple production could be sentenced to producing commodities because there is not enough investment as the sector is highly fragmented.”

In view of this uncertainty about the model to follow and the commitment to the future by a club, the ‘umbrella model’ was also talked about, represented by Samboa, with three varieties that do provide a differentiating element under the same brand and that consumers can remember with greater ease.

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