“You are going to see continued integration between marketing companies and packing and growing,” he said.
The state may see various industry state tree fruit associations consolidate as well, shippers said.
The challenge for tree fruit marketers, Long said, will be to sell product that is already in the ground.
“We have to continue to develop and see the market place both domestically and internationally continue to grow or we are not going to be able to move the number of apples and cherries in the ground,” he said. “That will be a challenge for our industry to find a level and a customer base to move the product.”
On the buying side, Long said there is a lot of consolidation that has happened in the past 15 years, but in the last five years that has slowed up.
“There are fewer people to sell your product to and a little more pressure on being able to take care of their business,” he said.
Electronic purchase transactions will increase in the next five to 10 years in the apple industry, said Robbin Erickson, sales manager for FirstFruits Marketing of Washington.
“I don’t know if it is so much of an auction (scenario) as it is that everyone will have similar, great quality product so there isn’t that much of a variance between product from shipper to shipper,” he said. “If you have a certain percentage of a customer’s business, you can count on that weekly,” he said.
Finding a niche
Looking ahead, Erickson said the industry will be much more selective in introducing and promoting varieties, realizing the efforts and costs and commitment that goes into marketing a new variety.
“Five years ago, if you went to a retailer with a new variety, they would say ‘We want it,’” he said. “Now you have to work much harder because there are five more apples looking for that shelf space walking in that retailer’s door right now.”
Lynnell Brandt, president of Proprietary Variety Management, Yakima, said placing niche varieties with retailers will require extensive planning, considering the critical mass needed to place the variety on store shelves.
“If they don’t what it is or don’t recognize it, retailers won’t be staying with it very long, because he’s got 10 more just hoping to get on that shelf,” he said.