WENATCHEE, Wash. — Washington organic apple acreage continues to increase, undeterred at least for now by the weaker U.S. economy and an up and down 2008-09 marketing season.
This year, marketers say volume of Washington organic fruit will be sufficient for some retailers to go exclusively organic on some premium varieties for extended periods of time.
The bump up in apple volume requires apple marketers to educate consumers and work with retailers on merchandising the fruit, said Maureen Royal, director of sales for CF Fresh, Sedro-Wooley.
Washington organic apple production is beginning to fill the gaps in unfilled demand over the past few years, added Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee.
Apples are a key organic item for retailers, as they are now grown in good quantity with steady availability. What's more, Washington organic growers produce an apple that looks very good, he said.
"The organic consumer is here to stay," he said.
Organic apples represent about 6% of Domex SuperFresh Growers volume in 2009, said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for the Yakima-based company. That's about double compared with the 2008 crop, he said.
Over the next five years or so, Superfresh may market between 9% and 10% of its fruit organic, he said.
"At the end of the day, we need organic, we have to have organic," added Superfresh Growers' Jon Alegria, president of CPC International Apple Co., Tieton.
As conventional fruit goes, so goes organic, said Andy Tudor, manager of the Yakima-based FirstFruits Marketing. That means organic fruit should show larger sizes this year, though not quite as large as conventional. Galas should show more volumes of 80s, 88s and 100s and less volume of 113s, 125s and 138s.
Even with better size, marketers expect that not all organic fruit will be packed as organic fruit.
"The different opportunity for retail this year is to go potentially their bulk mainline and varietal apples to 100% organic program for a fairly extended period of time," Tudor said. "They will have an opportunity to test the waters this year with premium retail sized fruit, organically grown.
After years of waiting for organic supply to catch up with demand, growers of organic Washington apples are finding sufficient volume to meet buyer needs.
A look back
In 2008, in fact, some smaller organic fruit was in overabundant volume and instead of being marketed in bags as organic apples, growers moved that fruit into the conventional supply stream.