Exports of watercored yellow apples soar amid rising demand in Asia

TOKYO, Nov. 17 – Gunma Meigetsu, a yellow apple variety, with water core, a sign that the fruit has more sugar than most apples of the same variety, is recently attracting popularity at home and abroad.

The variety is large in size, weighing roughly 300-350 grams each, and has high-quality flavor, with its sugar content at 15 degrees Brix or more.

JA Tsugaru Mirai, an agricultural cooperative in Aomori Prefecture, is focusing on exporting the fruit to respond to growing demand in the Asian markets, shipping 60% of high-grade Gunma Meigetsu overseas.

Amid aging of farmers and climate change, the number of yellow apple varieties with high sugar content is rising in recent years as such varieties – including Toki and Shinano Gold – require less effort for color management.

Production of Gunma Meigetsu is rising in such prefectures as Aomori, Gunma and Nagano.

According to the agriculture ministry’s survey on fruit production, cultivation area of Gunma Meigetsu totaled 265 hectares in 2019, the latest available data, up fivefold from a decade before.

The production of the variety is surging in areas covered by JA Tsugaru Mirai as it is high-yielding, good-tasting and does not require leaf removal. The farm coop handled 54,000 cases of Gunma Meigetsu produced in 2021, each case weighing 20 kilograms. The amount is up by 90% from those produced in 2018.

Stable prices

The agricultural cooperative starts shipping the apples in early November when yellow apples are in abundant supply in the market.

To adjust the amount of distribution in the domestic market to stabilize prices, it began exporting the fruit to Taiwan in 2014.

As the product matched the needs of the Asian markets where the popularity of watercored apples is high, it expanded its sales channels to other areas including Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia.

It exported 45,000 cases – each weighing 10 kg – of the variety produced in 2021, increasing sevenfold from those produced in 2014 and occupying 60% of total shipments of high-grade Gunma Meigetsu.

Kazuteru Abe, head of the farm coop’s apples and vegetables division, said, “Domestically distributed products tend to be affected by price fluctuations, but we can secure net income for producers because we can trade exports at stable prices.”

Export prices are decided by taking into account the average unit price at auctions held at the market in producing regions.

Weaker yen

Exports are serving as more than a distribution adjustment valve.

Gunma Meigetsu is sold in the Asian markets following already marketed yellow apple variety Toki, under the brand name Mitsu Meigetsu – mitsu meaning “honey” in Japanese – to promote the honey-colored watercore.

The variety is becoming increasingly popular year after year, reflecting the need for apples with a variety of colors in addition to red ones, as well as the boom for watercored products. Exports are soaring in terms of volume and the unit price per kg is also rising.

The head of a trading firm based in the Kanto region which ships Gunma Meigetsu overseas, mainly to Taiwan, pointed out, “Watercored yellow apple varieties are not grown overseas, so they are popular because of their scarcity.”

Prices for products harvested this year are shooting up at local markets, but the trading company head said, “Exports are faring well thanks to the weakening yen.”

Masaru Kimura, who grows Gunma Meigetsu apples in the area covered by JA Tsugaru Mirai, said, “They don’t require removing of leaves, they are tasty and evaluated highly in the market. I want to increase production further.”

For this year’s harvest, 906 growers in the area covered by the farm coop plans to ship a total of 42,500 boxes weighing 20 kg each.

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