Apple exports may be down, but companies have plans for expansion overseas in the future.
“With the short crop, we have very limited exports this season,” said president and owner Fred Hess of Hess Bros. Fruit Co., Leona, Pa.
However, Hess said exports are generally part of the company’s marketing plan.
Others have also noticed the decline in exports this season.
“We do typically export some every year, but we haven’t yet this year,” said Peter Forrence, vice president of Forrence Orchards Inc., Peru, N.Y.
“The demand domestically has been strong enough so the export markets have gone a little unnoticed so far this year,” he said, referencing the shorter crops coming out of the Northeast.
Of course, even when domestic supplies are high, other issues with exporting apples can sometimes cause companies to steer away from those markets.
“It costs more to move apples, so moving them a long way can be hard,” said Ken Korson, in sales and marketing with North Bay Produce Inc., Traverse City, Mich.
“That’s the big challenge for export.”
Korson compares the cost of flying apples to the cost of flying blueberries, noting that a pallet can hold roughly 240 cases of blueberries and only 40 cases of apples, making each case much more expensive.
“That’s why apples go by boat, which is a one- or two-month journey, as opposed to by air, which is only one day,” he said.
Still, Korson said North Bay is committing to finding a solution to this problem.
“We want to export more, so this is something we’ll have to figure out in the next few years,” he said.
Other companies also have plans to expand their apple exports.
“It’s currently somewhere around 5% of what we do,” said Mike Rothwell, president of BelleHarvest Sales Inc., Belding, Mich.
“It’s certainly an area we’re going to focus more on.”
Rothwell said he’s aware of the challenges that will bring, including developing relationships with contacts as a key part of success in exporting.
“You have to do a lot of ground work, and there are always logistical problems, but those are things you can get over,” he said.
Rothwell said the growth in overseas markets is nearly unlimited.
“There are a lot of markets that need to be serviced.”
Other companies are also focusing efforts outside of the U.S.
Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash., ships about 30% of its crop to nearly 30 markets worldwide, said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing.
He mentioned sales in Canada, Mexico, Asia and the South Pacific as areas with growing interest in U.S. apples.
While new varieties are slowly gaining ground overseas, Nager says traditional varieties are still the most popular for exporting.
“Traditionally the red delicious has been the No. 1 variety exported, with almost one-third of production going overseas,” Nager said.
Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc., agreed red delicious is still popular overseas. He also said export markets usually take different apples than U.S. markets.
“These markets usually take different sizes such as small sizes or larger sizes in different grades,” he said.
Pepperl said Stemilt is working on some programs with international retailers that focus on promoting where their apples were grown.