PERSEVERANCE is the key to getting a foot in the door to India for Australian horticulture.
Delegates at the Citrus Australia Outlook 2018 Forum in Sydney heard from the SCS Group's India-based Keith Sunderlal last week.
He painted a picture of an emerging giant, ready to consume fresh imported fruits but one not necessarily straightforward to access.
"India is not an easy place to do business. It might take you a little bit of effort to get in and understand how to do things and who the partners are, but please, I beg you, persevere," Mr Sunderlal said.
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He put India's population at almost 1.3 billion people, within which there were about 300 million burgeoning middle class.
India boasts one of the fastest growing economies in the world with a fiscal growth rate of more than 7 per cent in 2017.
Such figures sit as a lucrative invitation for industries with a premium product such as citrus.
But for all the growth, Indians are slow to change and embrace new lifestyles, according to Mr Sunderlal.
He said it was important to remember there were many different groups within India, including close to 150 different languages spoken.
With so much focus in the food sector on marketing towards millennials, India sits as a possible goldmine with about 65pc of the population under 35.
India is a long way from embracing online fresh produce buying and even western style supermarkets, according to Mr Sunderlal.
He said less than 20pc of food is sold through modern retail.
"When 80pc of imported fruit is not going through modern retail you do need to go beyond modern retail and that has to do with traditional wholesale markets, the wet markets and cities outside the metros," Mr Sunderlal said.
Gaining access into the 50 cities with more than 1 million citizens each is another important export step.
"It's not easy to do but it can be done," Mr Sunderlal said.
HE retold the success story of American Washington Apple exports into India.
The apples to India story began in about 1999 when India opened up to imports, with some of the first ones coming from Australia.
"It died out after about five years but became a tremendous success story for the US," Mr Sunderlal said.
The United States now ships more than 100,000 tonnes of apples to India, shipping every week of the year with an expectation of achieving 6 million cartons this year.
Mr Sunderlal presented the frank statement that Washington Apples were the most expensive apples on Indian shelves.
"Despite that, US apples have a market share of over 40pc," he said.
Mr Sunderlal said when it came to marketing strategies, taste took precedence over health.
"Because we have such a high domestic production, if you focus too much on health, it's not going to give you too much benefit," he said.
"Product positioning and differentiation is what led to the success."
He even said the apple wasn't the best eating, according to western tastes.
"But it's not important what you think; what's important is what the consumer wants to eat," Mr Sunderlal.
"It's not the best tasting apple but the Indian consumer likes it."
Other attributes like its thick skin makes the apple hold up better in high temperatures and humidity in India.
A simple data-bar sticker has also helped accelerate awareness.
"This really helped people identify a premium product," Mr Sunderlal said.
"As they say, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, so now most apples in India have a sticker on."
ON the Indian citrus front, the country produces 12 million tonnes of citrus with a harvest of only a few months, made more difficult with suitable cold storage challenges.
India is beginning to import citrus now with Egypt sitting as the biggest player at the moment, followed by South Africa and Australia.
In a similar message to that of Asian export expert, Noel Shield, Mr Sunderlal said the lure of a plenty of mouths to feed can be mesmerising.
"Don't get lost in the billion population. That's really important. Focus on what your market is and where it is," Mr Sunderlal said.
"Australia has a good story to tell. I think you need to build with the Australia brand.
"Keep it in your hands; don't let the government come in and mess it up for you.
"Tell the story the way you want to tell it, from your parts."