There’s eating and drinking in them
Irish apple growers are developing innovative apple-based products such as craft cider
“Consumer demand is more than adequate”, says Con Trauss
Irish consumers want to eat Irish apples, and are continually “disappointed that they can’t get Irish apples in their local supermarkets”. So says Con Traas, Chairperson of the Irish Apple Growers Association. “Consumer demand is more than adequate,” he says. In what is a small seasonal sector, one of the biggest historical problems the association’s 40 grower members face is in dealing with multiple retailers who want to treat them “as if they were buying items from a factory where output volume is easily controlled, and plannable in advance,” says Traas.” Supermarkets want guaranteed price tenders, “before a grower will even know what their crop will be like that year. Then if the grower is short, he or she would have to buy to make up the shortfall, but because there are so few growers, this might not be possible.”
But the good news is that the future looks rosy for Irish apples. “In terms of flavour and texture, the quality of Irish apples has never been better,” says Traas. Today’s growers are exploring alternative routes to markets. In recent years, there have been a growing number of producers developing innovative and award-winning apple-based products, from Longueville’s apple brandy to various import substitutions such as Llewellyn’s apple balsamic vinegar and Highbank Orchard Syrup, an apple-based alternative to imported maple syrup. These may remain niche products, says Traas, “but still require quite a volume of apples to make, and they also raise the profile of Irish apples and Irish apple producers.”
What is having the most impact for growers has been the expanding craft cider market. “The craft ciders sell at significant volumes, and because most of them use close to 100 per cent apple, they have the ability to take a lot of apples produced in Irish orchards,” says Traas.
Emma Tyrrell of Cider Ireland believes it is a “very exciting time to be involved in cider-making”. She argues that Irish craft cider makes for a dry, food-friendly alternative to “sugary, mass-produced alcopop” style ciders; a gluten-free alternative to beer; and a low-alcohol and locally produced alternative to wine. “At the moment there is enough supply [of Irish apples] to meet demand but should the cider industry continue in the direction it’s going, and at the same rate, then we may well be looking at a dearth of apples in the future. An apple tree would usually not produce fruit for cider-making for about four years, so now may be the time to get planting.”