Although some observers predict the red delicious apple will be overtaken by the gala as Washington’s No. 1 variety in less than a decade, international popularity of the long-reigning red is expected to secure its future for generations.
The fate of the red apple surfaced at a recent Washington State Apple Commission strategic planning meeting, spurring commission president Todd Fryhover to add the topic to the full commission’s March 2012 meeting.
“All members who were present (at the Nov. 30 meeting) were in agreement that the future of red delicious volumes seemed low,” Fryhover said.
The reds’ lower percentage of orchard land is mainly because of the development of new varieties to quench the American public’s desire for all things new and different.
“Red delicious domestically have lost shelf space to other varieties,” said Jon Alegria, commission member and president of CPC International Apple Co. in Tieton, Wash. “But there’s still a huge demand for red delicious in export markets.”
Demand, both foreign and domestic, is the reason reds will never disappear, said West Mathison, commission member and president of Stemilt Growers LLC in Wenatchee, Wash. He said Washington reds have a very strong position and in the world market, partly because they hold up well during transport and partly because of their uniform flavor and quality.
“They love the Washington soil and climate,” Mathison said. “And the reds that are remaining are the cream of the crop, from the root stock to the locations of the orchards.”
During the late 1990s and early 2000s some Washington growers ripped out portions of red orchards to make room for new varieties. Now, however, Mathison said there is talk in the state of some growers planting reds again because of the consistent demand for them.
The future of another familiar fixture — the Washington state apple logo — also generated discussion at the Nov. 30 meeting. The logo is in much the same position as the red delicious variety: It’s known the world over, but it is being seen less and less, particularly in America’s grocery stores.
Fryhover said the commissioners agree about the value of the logo and the need to protect and promote it, especially in export markets.
Commissioner Alegria said the language barrier is one reason the logo is so important in export markets.
“However, as the world becomes more retail driven than wholesale driven, brand loyalty is becoming a bigger factor,” Alegria said. “Deep down, we all believe in protecting the Washington apple logo. It’s the glue that ties us together.”
Mathison agreed that the logo is a “valuable tool” for the state’s apple industry. But, he said, making the most of it is a challenge.
“I don’t think there is a clear path of how the industry can leverage it in the current supply chain,” Mathison said. “With the consolidation of the industry, it has changed how the logo is used.”
Mathison said retailers know the logo carries clout with consumers worldwide. But regardless where Washington apples are being eaten, retailers are looking for top quality. He said the rule has become that retailers buy based on shippers’ labels rather than the state logo.
Both Alegria and Mathison said some kind of compromise using both shippers’ labels and the state logo might be workable, but they also said it is difficult to market a product from two perspectives.
“It’s hard to say two things at once on a product,” Mathison said. “You don’t go to the store saying ‘I want to buy some S.C. Johnson products.’ You say ‘I need Ziploc bags and Pledge.’
“Researchers say brand penetration on produce is very low. That is part of our challenge.”