WENATCHEE, Wash. — Red delicious and gala remain the two most popular apple varieties in export markets.
Washington Apple Commission president Todd Fryhover said India and Indonesia are red delicious markets, while Vietnam takes galas and China accepts red delicious, galas and granny smiths. Mexico, which takes about 30% of the fruit that Washington exports, once took only reds and goldens but is now open to other varieties as well.
Those countries are some of the key ones for grower-shippers, particularly because their interest is in the varieties that Washington produces in the highest volumes.
Red delicious is estimated to account for 25% of the new crop, and gala is right behind at 23%, according to the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.
“A lot of our marketing efforts are put into these areas where we know we’re going to help industry by pulling that fruit out of the domestic marketplace to keep the prices high and stable here,” Fryhover said.
Even though red delicious continues to find favor in Asian markets, some expect gala will surpass it, in part because production of reds in Washington is declining.
“(The gala is) becoming the No. 1 apple,” said Randy Abhold, executive vice president of sales and business development for Selah-based Rainier Fruit. “If it’s not this upcoming year, I can see it in a year or so. It’ll be the No. 1 volume apple out of Washington ... and it continues to grow its exposure just about globally.
“Behind that, granny smith, Pink Lady, Envy, Jazz — those have all grown,” Abhold said. “We’ve even exported a few pallets of Honeycrisp into other countries, which traditionally have not tried (the) little bit more expensive fruits.”
Roger Pepperl, director of marketing at Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers, gave a similar report — growth for galas and even some interest in branded varieties.
“We’re selling things overseas now that we didn’t at one time think we would,” Pepperl said. “Gala’s become a big export item, and I think you’ll see galas really ramp up as a big export item because of the volume grown in the state.
“We’ve sold a lot of Piñata overseas,” Pepperl said. “I don’t see that letting up. I think there’s an appetite for new items. We’re even shipping a few Honeycrisp now and then. I think you’ll see appetites for other apples appear, although you’ve got to remember some countries are challenged with their economy and their consumers. I think the size of their middle class really dictates how successful you are with some fruit.”
Central America and South America are also growing markets, several companies reported.
As opportunities have increased in some places, they have diminished in others.
“The European market is not really a factor like it used to be,” said Scott Marboe, director of marketing for Wenatchee-based Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers. “With us not being able to sell to Russia anymore, a lot of those European countries are taking care of themselves.”
Fryhover said Washington shipped 60,000 boxes to Europe from the last crop, where in previous years the state had sent more than 1 million boxes to the United Kingdom alone.
Additionally, European apples are also competing with Washington apples in some markets where they previously did not, numerous grower-shippers said.
Canada is also a big market for Washington apples, but it is treated more like an extension of the U.S. than an export destination.
Fryhover estimated that between 40 million and 45 million boxes could be exported this season, which would make it the second-largest export year on record behind 2014.
Rebecca Lyons, international marketing director for the commission, said the key for the organization in a year like this will be encouraging movement.
“When you’ve got more product in the market, you’re really trying to move that product through the sales channel as quickly as possible,” Lyons said. “So we focus a lot on promotional activities that are going to sell very quickly, as opposed to the brand building.”