Honeycrisp grows leaps and bounds in Washington

09/09/2013 10:02:00 AM
Tom Karst

YAKIMA, Wash. — Washington leads the way in production of what has become America’s hottest apple variety.

U.S. Apple Association projections estimate that Honeycrisp production will account for perhaps 8 million cartons, or about 5% of the state’s production.

Washington Honeycrisp apple acreage rose from 300 acres in 2001 to 9,098 acres in 2011.

The immense popularity variety has helped the appeal of other niche varieties and fueled Honeycrisp production increases from all major apple marketers.

“Our Honeycrisp orchards are some of the newest ones in the state and we have benefitted from some of the newest methods to do it,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director of Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee. “We have a lot of Honeycrisp coming on board.”

Domex Superfresh Growers will double its volume of Honeycrisp this year, said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing. He said buyers mostly seek Honeycrisps and any of the newest varieties available.

“Retailers typically ask marketers how much Honeycrisp you have, and then what do you have that is new?” Nager said.

Given the upward arc the varieties production potential, Randy Steensma, president of Honey Bear Tree Fruit Co., Wenatchee, said the Honeycrisp could eventually match the volume of royal gala.

With f.o.b. pricing well above $55 per carton for Honeycrisp, Steensma said growers and marketers have a long way to go before the Honeycrisp market is oversaturated.

“We as marketers will have to work on some more ads, and we realize the f.o.b. will settle to a reasonable level, but I don’t see it crashing,” Steensma said.

He said the overall Honeycrisp crop is expected to be 7 million to 8 million boxes in Washington, up from about 5 million boxes last year. The total U.S. Honeycrisp crop could be as much as 12 million boxes this year, up from with total production last year of perhaps 5.5 million boxes. The U.S. Apple Association forecast U.S. Honeycrisp production at 10.8 million in 2013, with western growing regions (Washington) accounting for 65% of output, eastern states 18% and midwestern orchards 17%.

Honeycrisp sold for a minimum of $55 per carton, with a mostly of $65 to $70, with late controlled atmosphere trading as high as $90.

With the Honeycrisp production coming on strong, those kind of f.o.b. markets aren’t like this year or any year thereafter.

At the retail level, some marketers feel that Honeycrisp have hurt sales of jonagold, golden delicious and cameo. Others say Honeycrisp doesn’t really cannibalize other apples sales.

“Where once we worried it was taking shelf space from another new variety, now we are seeing it is really a stand alone product,” said Robbin Erickson, sales manager for FirstFruits Marketing of Washington. “Having enough to fulfill our customers needs is a challenge,” he said.

Honeycrisp apples are marketed through the end of March, though some supplies will be available through June. Pricing in June 2013 was over $110 per carton.

Steensma said Honey Bear is doing a lot more sampling and sending more information to the buyers about appearance and characteristics of the varieties.

With only about a third of consumers estimated to have ever tried Honeycrisp, Steensma said the variety still has room to grow.

“The people who do eat it are hooked,” he said.

The USDA national retail report said ad prices for Honeycrisp apples were close to $3 per pound for much of the 2012-13 marketing season.

Bruce Grim, executive director at the Washington State Horticultural Association, said the Honeycrisp illustrated that both retailers and consumers are willing to pay more for desirable fruit than they have in the past.

Steensma predicts continued excitement for Honeycrisp and other new varieties.

“It’s a marketing challenge, but it is exciting,” he said. “There will be an evolution to new varieties and there will be market adjustment on the older varieties,” he said.

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