With poor harvests and
decreased demand, the bad weather last year hit French fruit growers with a double whammy.
The mild, wet 2006/07 winter followed by a cool summer meant the apple crop in the north west - where most of the production takes place - was of good quality, but far smaller than usual. Meanwhile, the poor weather between April and August meant shoppers just weren't in the mood to buy summer fruits.
This led to a crash in UK sales of French apricots, peaches and nectarines, with sales down 25% to £15.8m in that five-month period, according to Interfel, the private fresh fruit and veg association.
This was a significant blow given that the UK, alongside Germany, is the biggest export market for French fruit. To cap it all, key exports of apples, peaches, nectarines, pears, tomatoes, strawberries and cherries are under increasing competition from their counterparts in Spain, Turkey and Italy.
A programme of varietal development has been introduced in France to extend the season on key crops, which will, for instance, allow French fruit to fill a gap in the market during August when Spain's stone fruit output has finished.
Increased competition from its EU neighbours is also making it more important to promote French fruit in the UK. There is also pressure from British varieties, too: the volume of apples exported to the UK last year dropped by 14% to 151m tonnes [Eurostat] mainly due to the increase in production of British apples.
As such, more campaigns like the annual Le Crunch are on the cards. For instance, lamb's lettuce from the Loire valley and summer fruits from France. Whatever the promotion, the emphasis is likely to be on quality. "We cannot compete on price with Spanish and other growers, but we believe our fruit is better quality," says Daniel Obadia, Interfel president.
Provenance will also be key. The idea of shipping fruit from abroad has come under increased scrutiny in the UK given concern over food miles. And there is also the financial cost of transportation.
"Taking a truck to Rotterdam from the south of France costs about €700 (£546). Taking a truck to Manchester costs €2,500 (£1,945)," says Catherine Chavrier, export manager for Charles Faraud, which supplies individual fruit desserts and smoothies to UK supermarkets.
"UK buyers are also asking for shelf-ready packaging, and many manufacturers are not able to do that because of the cost."
One producer hoping to exploit the demand for quality and provenance is Conserves Guintrand. The small fruit and vegetable company is targeting the UK and hopes to capitalise on the "ongoing popularity of the Mediterranean diet", says export manager Gwénaël Hillion.
France also realises the importance of playing the health card, and Interfel is again promoting a 10-a-day message.
This is ambitious, admits Obadia, but he says the French already eat five different items of fruit and veg a day, he says.
The idea of 10-a-day, instead of the 5-a-day first promoted in the US, is to put more focus on variety, as opposed to quantity. For the industry, this means broadening the range of fruits and vegetables available.
So far, the strategy seems to have had little impact on consumption levels of fruit and veg (according to an Interfel consumer survey).
This year's communications campaign will therefore ask French consumers to focus on every meal. It will challenge them to replace half of each meal with fruit or veg.
For instance, instead of a whole pizza, the idea is to ask for half a pizza and a salad. The intention is that this will be easy to follow, and have shoppers thinking about every meal they order or cook.
Interfel would also like to include organic in the message. But unlike in Britain, where interest in organic has boomed in recent years, the French don't seem so keen. There has been growth, with sales of organic products overall at €1.9bn (£1.5bn) [Baromètre 2007 de l'Agence Bio], but French shoppers appear to be keener on non-organic, regional products.n