Blue Whale is a purely sales oriented company whose shareholders are the 300 apple growers on behalf of whom it conducts its sales and marketing activities. It came into being in 1950 when the first apple growers banded together to target export markets.
The name Blue Whale was coined in 1969 to provide an overarching brand that would represent all of the growers in sales markets in the Middle East, South America and the UK where special sales regulations applied.
“At the time, the growers managed sales to customers in France and Europe themselves,” says Commercial Director Marc Peyres. “Blue Whale was established to handle large scale overseas exports. It was very successful in this area, posting steady growth until 1990 when the crisis and subsequent wars in Iran and Iraq caused the market there to collapse.”
As a result of this setback, the legal status of the business was changed and it became a limited company. “We learned quickly from the mistakes of the past,” says Mr. Peyres. “For too long we had neglected research and development of new apple varieties to the detriment of overall sales. In the past, price was the overriding priority and flavour came second. Discount supermarkets sold low quality, cheap produce focusing on quantity over quality. However, the market is changing. Consumers have shown with their purchasing behaviour that they are not prepared to sacrifice flavour for low prices. We want to win a new generation over to the joys of the humble apple with new varieties that balance sweetness with crunch and juiciness.”
Blue Whale already has many of the most popular varieties in its range. “We are the biggest producer of Pink Lady apples in Europe and produce a quarter of the total European harvest of this variety,” says Mr. Peyres. “There are several thousand different apple varieties in existence but only around 30 of these are commercially produced in large quantities.”
Besides well-known varieties such as Braeburn, Golden Delicious, Royal Gala, Granny Smith and Fuji, Blue Whale has also developed its own varieties such as Blue Reine, a nostalgic apple of the kind that people remember growing in their own gardens.
Another new development is Rockit, a fun-size apple which is accompanied by an attractive marketing campaign. “We are currently in the process of developing a new variety that will have red-tinged flesh and be marketed under the name Kissable,” says Mr. Peyres. “However, the developmemt of a new variety is a lengthy process and it will be another ten years before this product is launched.”
In the meantime, Blue Whale is focused on identifying new trends in the market and acting accordingly. In addition to filling the pipeline with new products, Blue Whale is gearing up for a growing trend.
“Organic is definitely a trend, albeit a slowly developing one,” says Mr. Peyres. “The additional costs make organic cultivation a major investment for producers. When we started, around 2% of the orchards under cultivation by our producers were managed in accordance with organic standards. Today, the figure is around 15%, which is very high. Although the remainder of our production is not certified organic, we do use natural products and methods as far as possible.such as the employment of beneficial insects to combat pests instead of chemical pesticides. This puts us ahead of other agricultural segments such as winegrowing or wheat production by around 15 years.”
Blue Whale expects to generate roughly 300 million EUR in turnover for 2018. “Absolute figures are hard to predict because our product is subject to uncontrollable factors such as the weather,” explains Mr. Peyres. “That translates to sales of 270,000 t of apples today, up from just 70,000 t in the 1990s.”
Around 10% of turnover is derived from the sale of other fruit such as kiwis and plums. “We will continue to focus on apple sales overseas in the future,” states Mr. Peyres. “That is where our expertise lies and it is what we are known for. Getting the marketing right is the key to success in a crowded fruit market in which better logistics have increased competition. We will continue to bring French apples to a worldwide audience and use our expertise to cultivate exciting new varieties.”