Michigan, New York apple losses pose challenges

08/21/2012 03:33:00 PM
Andy Nelson

Andy NelsonYakima, Wash.-based Domex Superfresh Growers expects to increase its bagged sales this season in an effort to supply Michigan, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager. (UPDATED COVERAGE, Aug. 23) CHICAGO — Faced with one of the most uncertain apple seasons in memory, Washington shippers will have to dig deep to come up with ways to keep the nation supplied with apples until 2013 harvests.

Because of spring freezes, Michigan’s apple crop will be 85% lighter than last year and New York’s will be 52% lighter, according to the annual crop estimate from the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association, released Aug. 17 at the association’s annual Apple Crop Outlook & Marketing Conference.

Until late July, it looked like Washington was adequately equipped to compensate for losses east of the Mississippi. Early estimates put Washington’s fresh crop in the 120-million bushel range, a record.

But a July 20 hailstorm changed that, lowering Washington’s estimate to about 109 million boxes, though shippers and officials said that number could go up or down by several thousand boxes.

That would still be the second-largest crop on record, but whether it can make up for the losses in Michigan and New York remains to be seen.

Yakima, Wash.-based Domex Superfresh Growers expects to increase its bagged sales this season in an effort to supply markets that Michigan growers supply, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager.

“Michigan is primarily a bagged deal, and it’s up to us to cover that,” Queen said. “We’re grateful that we’re up to the challenge.”

Much of Domex’s bagged product will be packed in its 2-pound Superfresh Kids bags, which feature smaller fruit in the 125-size range and smaller, Queen said.

“It will be at a price point that’s interesting to consumers,” he said.

Braeburns, jonagolds and granny smiths will be among the varieties targeted for bagged promotions in the Midwest, Queen said.

By mid-August, Yakima-based FirstFruits Marketing Of Washington had already received several calls from Eastern producers looking for product, said Keith Mathews, the company’s chief executive officer.

Some have asked if FirstFruits was willing to ship products in bins, Mathews said. Thus far, the company has declined those offers, instead offering to pack in the Eastern producer’s label, then send it to them.

“We’re going into the season with our eyes open,” he said. “It’s hard to know what the Eastern folks will do with what they have.”

One temptation marketers must avoid is charging too much for fruit, Mathews said. F.o.b. prices higher than $50 and retail prices in the $2.50-per-pound range would not be an ideal climate for demand, he said.

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