Courtesy Pink Lady America LLCPink Lady apples began harvesting a little late, says Alan Taylor, marketing director for Pink Lady America LLC. Washington growers harvested apples later and in smaller numbers than last year, but shipments set a break-neck pace early in the season.
Opinions vary on how long it can be sustained.
It’s still an enormous crop: 104.3 million boxes will pack and ship, according to a Dec. 1 estimate by the Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association and Wenatchee Valley Traffic Association. That would make it the third-largest crop ever from the state, but still about 5 million cases lighter than last year’s record.
“We’ve got plenty of promotable volumes on all varieties right now and for some months,” Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash., said in mid-December.
“Last week the state shipped 3.2 million 42-pound boxes of apples, the biggest week we’ve ever had. We’re shipping like crazy. Demand is up but volumes are there to meet that demand.”
“As we got into September,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director at Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers, “the apple crop was about 10 days late. The crop from last year sold tremendously fast. Usually there’s a bit of carryover as you start to pack the fresh crop. There wasn’t this year, and that gap created such a huge demand that it’s never let up.”
Washington accounts for the majority of U.S. production.
“Things change. We’ll see what kind of crop we have left,” Pepperl said. “With a down crop this year, you could see movement and demand outstripping supply as we go forward in the spring. I think there will be opportunities in the spring for smaller apples. You could see retailers promoting bags or tote bags, pricing at 3 pounds for $4 on bulk fruit, that sort of thing.”
David Nelley, apple and pear category director at Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, sees an opportunity coming for imports.
“We anticipate the switch from domestic to imported apples in the spring to be fairly dramatic given the issues the Washington fruit may face as it stores,” Nelley said. “Washington’s harvest was late, and it took place on the heels of a cold snap. We see good opportunities for fruit from Chile and New Zealand in 2012.”
“Nationwide, we had a good crop,” said Nancy Foster, president of the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va. “Some areas were hurt by frost and Washington was late, but everyone did get their crop picked.”