Pink Lady production is booming across Europe with the French taking the lead. As the season gets underway Starfruit, the French propagator which holds the exclusive licence for Europe for the fruit discovered in 1973 in Australia, assessed that by 2005 there would be more than 100,000 tonnes available. Its director Philippe Toulemonde says the total European crop will reach 18,000 tonnes this year. "There are some 1,950 hectares planted and if this rate continues there will be 3,380 hectares by 2005," he says. The UK accounts for 22% of sales, according to Didier Crabos, director of Edenys, one of three licensed sales groups and president of Pink Lady, Europe. "We see it as an important variety and UK sales will double to 4,000 tonnes this season with all major multiples stocking." France accounts for more than half, mainly grown in the south, although producers in the country's other major apple region, the Loire valley, are testing the opportunity. Production is also building in Italy and Spain. Albert Giamattei, the largest producer in Europe with 40 hectares, says the fruit is not easy to grow. It is late picked to get its unique colour. If large yields are not thinned it becomes simply another red apple. Apart from the tight planting control exercised through a growers' register, proving traceability and an agreed international quality standard affecting aspects such as colour abd blemish ­ the variety also benefits from another unique characteristic controlling its marketing. Growers and appointed exporters and importers are linked through an international alliance which spreads across South and North America, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. They have developed common packaging standards and a logo used on stickered fruit and protect the brand through Corrego Ltd in the UK. Volumes allow suppliers to match their seasons. This winter the French are carrying on the momentum with a promotional campaign based on developing recognition of the fruit as part of a lifestyle package. Its growers are contributing about 50p a carton towards the cost. {{FRESH PRODUCE }}