Cox’s century-long reign as Britain’s favourite home-grown apple looks doomed, according to English Apples & Pears, as poor crop forecasts and changing consumer tastes boost demand for other varieties.
This season could be the last time volumes of English Cox exceed those of English Gala and only by a slim margin. Early indications from the trade association show the Cox crop this season could be down by as much as 20% on the previous year, to 34,000 tonnes, following exceptionally dry weather in the south east of England during June and July. This would put Cox volumes close to parity with the Gala crop, which is expected to be up 10% to 33,000 tonnes.
Cox volumes have decreased steadily since the late 1980s, when they typically stood at about 100,000 tonnes a year, and growers have been expecting Cox to lose its status as the nation’s favourite for some time but a 20% drop in volume this year would mean this is happening far quicker than anticipated.
Adrian Barlow, chief executive of English Apples & Pears, said Cox’s position as the UK’s prime variety had never been challenged like this before and the trend was here to stay, even if weather conditions were more favourable next year. British consumers increasingly preferred the sweet taste of Gala over the “complexity” of Cox, and were attracted to Gala’s vivid red colour. “It’s only a matter of time before Gala overtakes Cox,” he said.
Cox would remain an important variety for the UK, but growers needed to be aware of changing consumer preferences and adapt accordingly, he added.
Gala, originally from New Zealand, was introduced to the UK in 1990 and has been the UK’s bestselling overall variety since the early 2000s, and the second-most popular homegrown variety. It now accounts for about 25% of all eating apples sold in the UK, followed by Braeburn (19%). The UK consumes 600,000 tonnes of dessert apples a year, 500,000 tonnes of which are imported.