Will Belgian apples and pears soon be on Vietnamese shelves?
Belgian fruit organisations are targeting Vietnam as a new market for apples and pears. "I hope we can achieve something in the next few months," said Didier Lepoutre of the BelOrta fruit and vegetable auction.
Most of the apples on supermarket shelves in Vietnam come from New Zealand and South Africa, and the pears from South Korea. But these pears look very different from the Belgian Conference pear.
Lepoutre believes there is a potential market for the Conference pear in Vietnam. "We have been in China for 10 years with this pear. It was initially difficult, but it is a matter of perseverance," he said.
"People associate the bronze or brown colour of the Conference pear with overripe fruit"
Gert Van Causenbroeck, export manager at VLAM, the Flemish Centre for Agricultural and Fisheries Marketing, also knows that the Conference pear takes some getting used to. "We have seen this in China and Russia. People associate the bronze or brown colour of the Conference pear with overripe fruit," he said.
For apples, BelOrta sees opportunities in the relatively short term. "At the moment, Vietnam imports apples from New Zealand and South Africa, but they still see Europe as a step up. They like sweet, crunchy apples. Our Gala, Braeburn or Jonagold would fit in perfectly," said Lepoutre.
The Belgian fruit sector has been through a difficult period in the last decade. Since 8 August 2014, Russia has refused to import Belgian apples and pears and other agricultural products from the EU. The boycott came in response to sanctions imposed by the EU following Russia's annexation of Crimea.
About 40 per cent of Belgian pears and 20 per cent of apples went to Russia. The boycott forced the fruit sector to look for new markets.
Flemish minister president Jan Jambon is currently on a trade mission to Vietnam with local business leaders, including those in the food industry.
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