( Stemilt Growers )

Good retail sales in March with a dwindling storage apple crop may push prices higher late in the season.

“With less volume in this crop and supplies starting to dwindle because of seasonality, we expect to see strengthening apple prices in the coming months,” Brianna Shales, communications manager for Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, Wash., said in a news release.

Stemilt’s latest Fruit Tracker Fast Facts report reveals apples made up 8.2% of fresh produce sales on average in the U.S. between February 24 and March 30. The report said volume of apples was off 1.8%, according to Nielsen scan data, compared with the same period a year ago; dollars were up a nominal 0.2%.

Shales said the later-maturing 2020 apple crop could stretch demand for remaining 2019 crop apples.

“The 2019-20 apple crop is trending two weeks later than last season’s crop start and that will add pressure on supply and demand during the late summer transition,” she said in the release.

Stemilt’s Fruit Tracker Fast Facts report said gala volumes were up 14% year-over-year and sales were 10.7% higher. Gala accounted for 27% of March apple sales, according to the report. Honeycrisp saw volume growth of 9.3% sales growth of 7.2% compared with a year ago.

Sales of Stemilt’s proprietary Pinata apple were up 4% in volume and 6% in sales.

“Pinata is a fun success story in apples,” Shales said in the release. “Quality has been exceptional this year and we’re looking forward to some fun Cinco de Mayo celebrations with this culinary apple before we shift into imported Pinata apples this summer.”

The report said organic apples were up nearly 2% in volume year-over-year and made up more than 9% of total apple volume sold in March.

The average retail price for organics was $2.19 per pound, a 30% premium over conventional apple, according to the Stemilt report.

“It’s been a great building year for organic apples,” Shales said in the release. “Stemilt’s Artisan Organics program is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, and the anticipated larger crop of apples in the 2019-20 crop will certainly help us continue to lead the strong momentum on organics with shoppers.”

For Stemilt, Shales said in the release that promotion opportunities remain for select organic apples, including gala, fuji and small Pink Lady apples. For conventional apples, Shales said apple promotion chances exist for red delicious, Pink Lady, gala, braeburn, and bulk granny smith.