Organic apple production may slow in near future

09/09/2013 10:27:00 AM
Tom Karst

The average price for Washington organic apples in the period from August 2012 through June 2013 was $32.83 per carton, according to the USDA’s Market News Service. That compares with $31.88 per carton for Washington organic apples marketed in the 2011-12 season, according to the USDA.

Growth ahead

Shippers said the category is still growing.

Organic apples account for more than 10% of total apple volume for several large marketers; 11% of Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee’s 11 million carton apple crop is organic, said Brianna Shales, communications manager for the company.

Growth in organic apple volume for Columbia Marketing International is more than 10% per year, said Mike Nicholson, salesman for the Wenatchee-based company.

Other shippers echoed that sentiment.

“We are off a little bit on conventional, but organic volume overall will be up as we continue to transition fruit into the organic side of things,” said Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Rainier Fruit, Selah. While markets in the Midwest and the South have been traditionally flat on organic sales, Wolter said the 2012 season witnessed growth in those markets.

She said the company is finding growing demand for organic-oriented secondary display bins and that reflects the interest of retailers who are looking to add focus on organic to their stores.

While a growing part of the business, John Long, director of sales and operations in Union Gap, Wash., for Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos., said the limited scope of organic demand can be challenging, he said. For example, retail buyers prefer premium organic apples size 72s to 100s.

“(Organic buyers) want the heart of the manifest. What do you do with the rest of it?“ he said.

Retailers want organic apples, and Robbin Erickson, sales manager for FirstFruits Marketing of Washington, observing that the supply and demand equilibrium for organic fruit seems to be mostly in balance, Erickson said that FirstFruits accounts for almost 20% of the state’s organic production for apples.


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