Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee, DeWitt, (left), talks with Doris Aw Geok Khim, sales manager for TransFresh, Selangor, Malaysia, about the rome apple during a U.S. Apple Export Council-sponsored reverse trade mission with Indian and Southeast Asian buyers.
GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Michigan Apple Committee hosted its first apple tour for buyers from India, as well as Thailand and Malaysia, Sept. 29-30.
Michigan was the middle leg of the tour for the Southeast Asian buyers, who were looking to expand their U.S. apple sourcing — currently Washington-exclusive. They also visited New York and California on the trip.
“This trip, we want to find something new to promote to Thailand. Something with good color and sweet flavor,” said Wipavee Watcharakorn, business development director for Vachamon Food Co. Ltd., Bangkok, Thailand.
Because Asian consumers are mostly interested in sweet apples with red coloring, the orchard tour began in a section of romes at Thome Orchard, Comstock Park. Steve Thome accompanied the group and explained how apples are grown on his 130 acres.
Thome’s apples are packed by Jack Brown Produce Inc., Sparta.
“It’s a very good apple,” said Doris Aw Geok Khim, sales manager for TransFresh, Batu Caves, Selangor, Malaysia. “In fact, we’ve been selling a lot of Washington apples, so we’re interested in more over here, to check out Eastern apples.”
Richard Lieu, who represents the U.S. Apple Export Council in Singapore, said the rome could be a good apple for the Chinese new year because of its color.
“We give away a lot of fruit baskets, especially in January and February, and red means fortune and happiness, so they like it,” Watcharakorn said.
The group also looked at red delicious, empires and idareds at Thome Orchard.
After that, the group went Ridgeview Packing, where Al Dietrich guided the group through the packinghouse.
“It’s a good crop. We got three weeks of warm weather that really put a nice cheek on the apples,” Dietrich said. “Size and quality are better than we expected.”
Michigan shippers have a long road ahead of them in getting the record crop packed and into storage, though. The state is usually finished by the end of October, but will probably run into November this year.
“How many days are in October? 31? I think we need 61,” Dietrich said.
After the tour, Don Armock, president of Riveridge Produce, Sparta, and Tom Pletcher, vice president of sales and marketing for Belleharvest Sales Inc., Belding, two of the state’s handful of apple exporters, displayed some product and talked about export opportunities.
The tour was organized by the U.S. Apple Export Council and underwritten by U.S. Department of Agriculture Market Access Program and Emerging Market funds from the Farm Bill, said Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee.
The group flew to California Sept. 30 to meet with shippers there before attending the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in Anaheim.