Source: British Apples & Pears

Over the past two years, British apple growers faced a 30% increase in the cost of production and received just an 8% rise in returns from the supermarkets

The British apple industry is on a “knife edge” due to the continuing disparity between returns and costs, British Apples & Pears has warned.

Over the past two years, British apple growers have faced a 30% increase in the cost of production and received just an 8% rise in returns from the supermarkets, new data from the industry body has revealed.

BAP said these findings highlighted the ongoing struggles for beleaguered UK top fruit growers.

“This situation is unsustainable,” said executive chair Ali Capper.

“The industry is on a knife edge. I’ve never heard such desperation from our members,” she added. “When you think about what a good news story our industry should be, it’s heartbreaking.”

In 2022, growers faced a 23% increase in the cost of production and almost static returns from the supermarkets, which edged up by 0.8%.

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Returns have improved in 2023, according to BAP’s data, which revealed an average 7% increase for growers. However, production costs rose by a further 6%-9%, maintaining the disparity and hitting profitability.

“The volatility in costs has become the biggest challenge faced by growers, many of them out of their control, from labour and energy to the ever-increasing cost of the audit burden,” said Capper.

“We should not be talking about the slow decline of British apple orchards, and generations of family farm businesses at risk of bankruptcy.” 

In a recent BAP survey, 70% of growers said they were now less confident in the industry than a year ago and only 3% felt they had a “true partnership” with supermarkets.

Almost half of respondents (45%) said retailers only bought on price and the same number said they had scaled back on future investment plans.

Another said, “I have been growing fruit for over 40 years and never found it so difficult”, while another complained that “prices have stagnated for the last five years”.

However, on shelf prices have continued to rise.

The price of British sourced lines has risen significantly in the big four, discounters, Waitrose and Co-op, analysis of Assosia data by The Grocer shows.

The price of 77 lines increased by an average of 9.8% between the end of November 2021 and November 2023, with some lines up as much as 50% – far higher than the sector’s average returns.

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“Ultimately, it’s not just British growers that are losing out, it’s UK shoppers too,” continued Capper.

“According to The Grocer’s analysis of Assosia data, in the two years from November 2021 to November 2023, the price of apples has increased significantly, with the average price in Aldi rising by 12.6%, Lidl 12.1%, Tesco by 10.9% and Sainsbury’s by 9.1%,” she explained.

“Together, these four retailers sell over 70% of all British apples and pears.”

Capper added that these overall averages hid some “startling extremes”, Lidl’s Oaklands Red Apples 2kg went up by 50%, Morrisons British Apples (six pack) went up 39% and Tesco increased the price of its Rosedene Farms Gala apples (six pack) by 36%.

BAP has set out three critical changes it wants to see from retailers to save British apple orchards.

These include an increase in returns to growers that reflect the true cost of production and necessary investment, longer-term arrangements between growers and retailers and better in-store and online merchandising of British produce.

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