When Mexico ended punitive tariffs in October after a longstanding cross-border trucking dispute was resolved, apple marketers and grower-shippers stood to benefit.
They still do, but they’re not popping the champagne corks — or sparkling cider bottle caps — just yet.
Despite the tariffs, Mexico was the top export donation a year ago for Washington apples, ahead of Canada, said Rebecca Lyons, export marketing manager for the Washington State Apple Commission, Wenatchee. India, meanwhile, moved up to third place.
“It does not help to have that 20% retaliatory tariff on the apples,” Lyons said in December. “But there’s a combination of factors. In order to ship to Mexico, our apples have to go through a minimum 40-day cold treatment. That’s an automatic delay. Couple that with a two-week delay to our harvest and it’s hard to make up at this early stage of the season.”
“Tariffs (being) off gives us all a better, (more) even playing field,” said Keith Horder, director of business development in the Union Gap, Wash., office of Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. “But we have to have fruit that qualifies for Mexico, which depends on every individual shipper’s situation.”
Simcha Weinstein, director of marketing at Albert’s Organics, Bridgeport, N.J., said in December he has heard a mixed response from apple growers to developments in Mexico.
“Some are saying sales are flat, while others are saying yes, they have seen significant increases due to the loosening of tariffs. But overall, I’d say yes, there has been an uptick and a boost to Mexico exports.”
Roger Pepperl, marketing director at Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers, said lifting tariffs takes pressure off f.o.b. pricing.
“It allows you to deliver the fruit cheaper,” Pepperl said. “And it takes pressure off the retail price and gives the consumer a better deal. Growers and consumers both benefit. I think you’ll see more apples sold in Mexico. We’re going to maximize the market but ship responsibly. The consumers will dictate how the movement goes in Mexico, but they should respond well to this.”
Sage Fruit Co. LLC, Yakima, Wash., exports about 15% of its apples, said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing.
The smaller than usual fruit sizes harvested, for example, in Washington — where Pepperl said peaks were mostly 100 or less — could be headed for the export markets.
“For example, a 138 gala apple may be a high demand in Mexico, but many of the mainstream retailers in the U.S. don’t use 138s as their preferred size,” said Sinks, who also exports to Asia, Russia and India among others.
Suzanne Wolter, marketing director at Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash., said export opportunities have grown worldwide for the past couple of seasons because of a weak U.S. dollar.
“Changing worldwide currency values, along with social unrest throughout the globe, most likely will change the value equation for our apples in various export markets,” Wolter said.
Weinstein said changing values aren’t always helpful.
“Overall import demand is down this year — Asia, Europe, etc. — due to global currency issues and a stronger focus on local supplies,” he said.
“We’ve had a great demand no matter what the dollar’s done,” Horder said. “We do 30% to 35% of our apple business in export. Red delicious is still the export king.”
While the red delicious is popular overseas, newer varieties are making inroads, said David Nelley, apple and pear category director for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia.
“Pacific Rose has become the market leader in China this time of year,” he said.
“It is also interesting to see the Jazz apple fare well in parts of Asia. As a tart-sweet apple, conventional wisdom suggests that it wouldn’t suit the palate. But because it is a dense apple that stands up well in tropical weather and sweetens as it matures, it has performed surprisingly well.”
Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, Fishers, said New York shippers are entering the Vietnam market this season.
“Vietnam is a new market for New York empire apples,” Allen said. “We’ve been in Singapore and Thailand in the last two years. We’ve got some reps there and targeted those countries through the USDA’s Market Access Program.
“We export maybe 7% to 8% of our volume.”