Some apple shippers are scrambling to fill orders for smaller fruit this fall.
Fruit was sizing about one size larger than normal at the end of October for Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers LLC, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.
That’s good news, Pepperl said — 75% of Stemilt’s sales are big fruit shipped in bulk.
But it was making the Washington industry scramble a bit to fill orders for smaller apples.
“We’re a little challenged on small fruit,” Pepperl said Oct. 30.
Fruit packed by Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co. is sizing 1 to 1 1/2 times larger than last year on most varieties, said Suzanne Wolter, the company’s marketing director.
“Fruit doesn’t stop growing until it’s picked, and growing conditions this fall were optimal — fruit is clean and continued to size.”
Pepperl said the average fruit size should come down some as the season progresses. The earliest picks of the season often tip toward larger fruit because apples on the outside rows of orchards get more sun, he said.
In addition, the overall size of the crop should yield plenty of smaller fruit, even if its share of the total crop is down.
“It will definitely get better,” Pepperl said. “And when you have 140 million-plus (boxes), you’re going to find small fruit in there.”
Stemilt does not expect to scale back its Lil Snapper line of bagged smaller fruit because of the smaller size profile this season, Pepperl said.
Rainier also isn’t concerned about running out of smaller fruit.
“Rainier Fruit has a good range of sizes to satisfy the needs of our diverse customer base,” Wolter said.
Prices for large and small Washington apples were comparable on Oct. 29. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $15-17 for cartons of both size-72 and size-125 red delicious from Washington.
Michigan grower-shippers are in good position to help meet some of the demand for small apples this fall, said Don Armock, president of Sparta, Mich.-based Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc.
Foodservice buyers, in particular, have been clamoring for Michigan’s smaller apples, Armock said.
“Early on, we were inundated with request for 125s and 138s. We have the sizes that seem to work.”
Galas and reds shipping in late October were peaking on 125s, Armock said. Cooler growing weather this summer was great for quality but kept fruit from sizing.
“We never hit 90 in Michigan,” Armock said.
The smaller sizes have been great for bag promotions thus far this season, Armock said.