Export demand for Washington apples has risen dramatically this season in Central America and South America. The industry reports solid gains in India and Asia as well, according to the Washington Apple Commission, Wenatchee.

In late December, season-to-date shipments to Central America and South America were up 61% over the year before, said Rebecca Lyons, export marketing manager.

“There’s just been a phenomenal pull in those markets,” Lyons said. “It’s partly due to Chile just not having late-season fruit — their pipeline is quite empty — particularly galas and fujis, which are not year-round. We’re shipping galas and reds as well.”

Another reason for the export spurt is the market for Christmas fruit in Central America and the Dominican Republic. Apples, like grapes, are a traditional holiday fruit there.

“Consumers will go into a retailer and buy an entire box,” Lyons said. “They use them as gifts.”

In such regions, the commission initiated a gift-box promotion to stimulate volume purchases.

“We’re offering an attractive, distinctive box,” she said. “They might not buy a whole 42-pound box, but we’re still trying to get them do a single or double layer.”

In South America, demand and sales in Colombia has been off the charts, up 364% in December over the year before. Peru and Ecuador sales also spiked.

“It’s a combination of smaller volume in Chile and the right price differential,” Lyons said. “When the price difference is minimal, the market will look to Washington. If it’s significant, it’s harder for us to compete.

“We also have a good supply of smaller-sized fruit this season, which fits with many of our export markets, including Latin America.”

Apples to India

The market for Washington apples has been surprisingly strong in India, even surpassing, so far, last year’s record pace.

“We’re up 16% season to date on our shipments to India,” Lyons said in December. “India is not typically an early season market, so that’s great to see.

“Normally we’d see our shipments going in after the first of the year, but we’re seeing a strong pull. Their domestic crop is down, which is helping us.”

To continue feeding demand, the Washington State Apple Commission plans to venture into the world of sports with a new promotion.

“In April, we are planning to team up with one of the top-ranked Indian cricket teams, based out of Chennai,” Lyons said.

A port city, Chennai is southern India’s distribution center for Washington apples.

“We’re not their only sponsor, but we’ll have some activities with the team to create some excitement,” she said. “We’ll have Washington Apple Days at the cricket games and combine those with in-store activities. We’ll have point-of-sale materials that tie in with the cricket team.”

Asian holidays

The commission also reports 9% growth early in the season in exports to Asia.

“In Chinese culture red is a lucky color, so we see a strong demand for red delicious, especially for Chinese New Year, but also for Tet in Vietnam,” Lyons said.

“What’s going on is that the Chinese New Year is earlier this year, Jan. 23, so there’s a big demand earlier in the season than we normally see.”

Tet is the Vietnamese New Year.

Holiday gift boxes are on offer in Asia as well as Central America, Lyons said.