Damon Glei, partner in Hillsdale, Mich.-based Glei’s Inc., reports more production of Honeycrisps, fujis and galas and less production of red delicious and mcintoshes.SPARTA, Mich. — Thanks to new plantings, Michigan production is on the rise, but not all varieties will be rising equally, and some will likely hold steady or even decline, grower-shippers, packers, officials and other industry members said.
“There are a lot of new galas, Honeycrisps, jonagolds and fujis,” said Pat Chase, salesman for Jack Brown Produce Inc.
Of those four, one clearly stands out above the rest, said John Schaefer, Jack Brown’s president.
“Honeycrisp growth is kind of exponential,” he said.
To the tune of about 33% more versus 2011, Chase said.
When the Lansing-based Michigan Apple Committee does apple taste tests, Michigan-grown Honeycrisps almost invariably come out on top, said Diane Smith, the committee’s executive director.
“We grow a great Honeycrisp here,” she said. “Our climate lends itself to it.”
Keeping customers satisfied
Switching production to varieties consumers want is a way for shippers to transcend the produce category, something Belding-based BelleHarvest Sales Inc. is trying to achieve, said Chris Sandwick, the company’s vice president of sales and marketing.
“We want to compete with Frito-Lay and Mars,” Sandwick said. “I don’t look at other packers as our competition.”
Consistency is what keeps people coming back to their favorite candy bar or bag of potato chips, Sandwick said. BelleHarvest wants to do the same for apples, and Honeycrisps and other newer varieties will play a crucial role.
“Our Honeycrisp portfolio is increasing, and the key is to make sure we have the right ones,” he said.
“It’s almost not even fair to compare them with other apple varieties.”
Because of their mushrooming popularity, Honeycrisps are being grown everywhere. Shippers like BelleHarvest believe they can maintain a competitive edge by shipping only the best ones.
Honeycrisps have become so valuable, pickers working for Sparta, Mich.-based Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc. now clip the stems of all Honeycrisps so they don’t puncture other Honeycrisps in transit, said Don Armock, the company’s president.
Despite Honeycrisps’ starring role in the deal, galas will quietly overtake red delicious this year as the top-volume variety, said Mitch Brinks, Jack Brown salesman.
Red delicious production will likely remain static, but don’t count the venerable variety out anytime soon, Brinks said.