YAKIMA, Wash. — Grower-shippers continue to invest in proprietary apple varieties.
Along with organic, that segment is the growth area, said Chuck Zeutenhorst, general manager for Wenatchee-based FirstFruits Marketing of Washington.
“(Millennials are) demanding stuff that tastes good,” Zeutenhorst said. “When I started selling in 1980, it was really just red delicious and goldens, that’s all we had. Two varieties, two grades, there we went.
“Now we pack 11 apple varieties with regularity,” Zeutenhorst said. “The key there as a grower is to have a proprietary variety that really is exceptional.”
Options for consumers have increased dramatically in recent years, from Ambrosia and Autumn Glory to Jazz and Juici to Kiku and Kanzi to SweeTango and Sweetie — with many others in between. Braeburn and Breeze, Jonagold and Junami, Sonya and Sweetie are also relatively recent additions to the apple category.
Randy Abhold, executive vice president of sales and business development for Selah-based Rainier Fruit Co., said the company has gotten great feedback on its branded varieties.
“The response has been incredible,” Abhold said. “The demand has been greater than what our supply is, which is great along almost every aspect of growing a piece of fruit.
“When you have demand greater, the rotation’s extremely good, the quality the consumer gets is great, all these things play into additional opportunity because consumers continue to want more of it,” Abhold said.
Other grower-shippers have made similarly glowing remarks about their own proprietary apples.
Retailers likely will not have space for all the options, however, and it remains to be seen which ones will ultimately become regulars and which will be relegated to limited time offerings.
“I think we’re seeing apples hit a saturation point, where there’s so many varieties on the shelf anymore that it’s getting to the point I think it’s starting to confuse the consumers,” said Scott Marboe, director of marketing for Wenatchee-based Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers.
“We’re hearing a lot of talk that certain varieties are going to be eliminated that aren’t selling or making the top 10 or top 12 in a retailer’s set.”
In the long term, some of those getting pushed out may be the more traditional varieties, particularly red delicious.
Bill Knight, domestic sales manager for Wenatchee-based Northern Fruit Co., said retailers sometimes make room for the newcomer apples at the expense of the veterans.
“There’s no doubt that the space for some of the older varieties — they still have distribution, but it’s shrunk,” Knight said.
“I used to get two feet of the guy’s rack, now I have 18 inches because he’s got to make room for Kikus and Korus and Envys and Pacific Rose and Jazz, so definitely there is some pushback.
“We haven’t been totally eliminated yet. Luckily there’s a lot of folks that have been around reds, still eat reds, still like reds,” Knight said.
“A lot of the older apples have become even more unique because now all the new apples, they all look the same. If you’re not a connoisseur, it’s tough to tell between a braeburn and a gala.”
Roger Pepperl, director of marketing for Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers, said the apple industry overall is benefiting from the abundance of options.
“You can see that people have enjoyed having a new apple to the point that it’s overwhelmed the category,” Pepperl said.