Competition from heavy European stone fruit crop French growers have virtually escaped hail damage in the Mediterranean, confirmed Daniel Obadia, president of the summer fruits and apricots section of the industry. Launching the season in the UK, he estimates that peaches and nectarines have only reduced by some 2% from the original 460,000 tonnes figure provided at the international Europech conference a month ago. Apricots have fared slightly worse with a 5,000 reduction from the original 159,000 tonne crop forecast. "The majority of fruit hit has been in the Drome region in the Rhone valley," he said. "While some growers have been affected, it willl not alter our export programmes." Shipments are already under way with the first fruit already in the multiples, as the crops are around a week earlier than last year. But they are having to compete with cheaper Spanish fruit which was delayed. The region, which also represents 40% of cherry production, is unaffected while the French national crop has risen from 68,300 tonnes to 71,300 tonnes. Longer term, with a heavy European crop of stone fruit, Obadia is putting on a brave face. Last season he admits was a disaster for growers. "But if the weather is good in June and July customers will be encouraged to eat more and we should not have any problems," he said. In 1999, French fruit sales still performed well although prices were poor. International sales rose 18%, with apricots up 208%, melons 16% and peaches and nectarines 12%. Apricot production has dropped sharply mainly due to biannual cropping, although size is reported to be good. The crops, which include melons and pears, will again be promoted under the slogan Sunshine Fruits from France', repeating last season's. Marianne Malonne of Sopexa UK, France's national promotional organisation, said that instore activities with tastings, recipes and competitions will be taken up by most multiples. {{FRESH PRODUCE }}