Tesco has pledged to increase the volumes of English apples it sells by focusing on newer varieties and promotions.

The retailer hoped to build on the last couple of years of sales growth by focusing on newer late-season varieties such as Cameo and Kanzi, said senior buying manager for fruit, Martin de la Fuente, speaking at a growers' conference this week.

These offered a longer English apple season and opportunity to engage consumers with new and different-tasting fruit.

Consumers were changing their apple-buying habits, he said. While there had been only modest increases in sales of Cox, Gala sales were up 20% and Braeburn sales had doubled.

The supermarket had doubled its English apple sales in the past three years, he said. "In 2007/08 alone our volume increased 36% and that was on a strong sales base," he added.

Improved sales had also come through better use of shelf space, concentration of the range and greater use of single large promotions rather than the numerous smaller ones that had confused consumers, he said.

Tesco now planned to put extra focus on staff training to improve handling and presentation, said de la Fuente.

The current squeeze on consumers' pockets meant Tesco was having to respond with competitive pricing and promotions, he admitted, but he stressed, the cost of this would be shared.

"It is not just a case of asking our suppliers to support this strategy. We will - and have - put our hands in our own pockets," he said.

n Meanwhile, fruit grower Alan Firmin was named Tesco's top apple and pear grower at the retailer's awards in Kent last week.

Firmin scooped top prize having won in the producer with more than 14 hectares of land class. Adrian Scripps won the best grower/packer award and Andrew Nicholas won the award for best producer in the under 14 hectares class.