Apple prices are rising sharply in the wake of lower volumes of fruit coming on to the market.

The average cost of the cheapest apples hit a low of 50p/kg in the big four retailers in November [The Grocer 33] as oversupply of European fruit and competition between supermarkets brought down prices.

However, the price moved up to 69p/kg last month, and growers say they expect a return to the 80p/kg seen two years ago over the coming months.

Growers have been planting less fruit in response to the low prices of the last two years, with supply expected to be more tightly matched to demand in 2010.

EU apple production fell 5% in 2009 to 10.9 million tonnes, World Apple and Pear Association (WAPA) figures show. Southern hemisphere production fell 1% in the same period to 1.6 million tonnes.

"Producers suffered very badly as a result of poor prices at the end of last season," said Adrian Barlow, chief executive of English Apples & Pears, following a World Apple and Pear Association meeting last week. "It's important there is an improvement in growers' profits and I'm optimistic prices will go up [further]," he said.

Growers across Europe have been ripping out their trees and converting to arable production rather than continuing to suffer low margins, Barlow claimed. A further long-term fear was that southern-hemisphere growers would opt to send their fruit to Asian and North American markets, which are offering attractive prices.

Although China grows half the world's apples, much of its output is the Red Fuji variety and there is growing demand for other varieties.

Meanwhile, there are also concerns over pear supplies this year, with southern hemisphere output forecast to fall 9% in 2010 as a result of poor weather in Argentina, Australia and South Africa. WAPA claims there won't be a shortage on UK shelves as a surplus of EU fruit in store should cover the deficit.