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Golden apples: Why fruit prices are national issue in early autumn

National effort seeks to offset impact of extreme weather on apples and pears to ensure bountiful Chuseok gifts and tables

By Jung Min-kyung

Published : Sept. 24, 2023 - 12:02

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A shopper peruses apples at a supermarket in Seoul. (Yonhap) A shopper peruses apples at a supermarket in Seoul. (Yonhap)

When the grip of summer loosens and the air turns cooler, Koreans pay particular attention to the price trends of two specific fruits -- apples and pears.

At their freshest and most flavorful during this time, the two fruits are the quintessential autumn fruits in South Korea, but there are a few other reasons why people are particularly sensitive to their prices.

A time-honored tradition during Chuseok, one of the two biggest traditional holidays here, is to prepare a table full of food offerings to honor one’s ancestors. Apples and pears are a staple on this ceremonial table. Furthermore, they are also the two most common fruits gifted during the Chuseok holidays. Usually, Chuseok gift packages are prepared and delivered a week or two before the actual holiday begins.

However, Chuseok's varying dates each year, falling somewhere between late September and early October and determined by the lunar calendar, pose challenges.

This timing, in conjunction with the year's weather conditions and harvest outlook, can sometimes lead to a mismatch between the fruit harvest and peak demand.

This year, the price of apples are some 50 percent higher than the same period last year, dampening the mood of those who sought to make a hearty table for their ancestors.

Struggle for price stabilization

This year’s apple and pear production was heavily influenced by the long monsoon, heat wave seasons and a typhoon, experts said.

Typhoon Khanun ripped through the Korean Peninsula in early August and resulted in a total of 361 cases of facility and flooding damages. The typhoon was a key reason behind the higher apple and overall fruit prices this year, according to a state-affiliated institute.

“The typhoon in August has led to an overall surge in price of apples due to its lack of supply,” the latest report released by Korea Rural Economic Institute said.

KREI forecast the wholesale price of apples per 10 kilograms in September to jump a maximum 160.6 percent on-year to an average 74,000 won ($55.72).

“The fruiting of the apples were lackluster this year as well due to an elongated monsoon season in July coupled with damages from hails and frostings during its fruiting season,” it added.

Finance Minister Choo Kyung-ho inspects retail prices of apples and other fruits ahead of the Chuseok holiday at a supermarket in Seoul on Sept. 17. (Yonhap) Finance Minister Choo Kyung-ho inspects retail prices of apples and other fruits ahead of the Chuseok holiday at a supermarket in Seoul on Sept. 17. (Yonhap)

Overall apple production this year declined 21 percent on-year to below 449,000 metric tons, the institute data showed.

Its projected distribution amount, aimed for the Chuseok gifting season of Sept. 15-28, came to 56,000 tons, which is 14 percent less compared with the same period last year, the same data showed.

Pears also suffered the brunt of the country’s lower-than-expected temperatures during its blooming season in April, according to KREI.

Pear production declined 20 percent on-year and is forecast to fall under 200,000 tons. Its distribution volume for the Chuseok season is projected to fall 8 percent on-year to some 44,000 tons.

Overall, farming was affected by one of Korea’s worst heat waves in history this summer. The government raised the hot weather warning to its highest level for the first time in four years, as parts of the country roasted in temperatures over 38 degrees Celsius.

“This year’s Chuseok comes slightly later than usual, but with the weather issues in the summer, the production is low and the price is high,” Lee Dong-hoon, an analyst at Korea Price Information, said.

“It would be better for consumers to wait for a while until the production and the price is stabilized,” he added.

KREI said bitter rotting, caused by a deadly fungal disease for apples, was a major reason behind the decline of fruit production this year besides the typhoon.

Increase in blotches caused by fungus was another culprit, KREI added.

Noticing such risks, distributors and retailers are making efforts to stabilize the price and make the fruits affordable for consumers.

National Agricultural Cooperative Federation's distributing arm recently announced it plans to sell Chuseok gift sets and products as much as at half price.