Competing against a rapidly expanding group of managed, niche varieties and trendier varieties, some traditional or legacy Eastern apple varieties are getting weaker and weaker in the retail market, shippers believe.
“Unless you have got very specific market areas that are very specifically leaning toward those regional varieties like cortland, macoun and mcintosh to some degree — unless you’ve got those retailers on your list — it is tough to sell those varieties out of that specific area,” said Jim Allen, vice president of marketing for New York Apple Sales, Glenmont, N.Y.
Newer and more popular varieties such as Honeycrisp and SweeTango and other club varieties are crowding out traditional varieties, Allen said.
“On the other side of that coin, you know, the club varieties aren’t necessarily the easiest thing either to market because there’s not a lot of consumer awareness often for some of these varieties,” Allen said.
With limited volumes, some of the club varieties are priced above the market. With expanding numbers of new varieties, Allen said a lot of the excitement and a lot of the novelty of having these new varieties is wearing off at the retail level.
Standout niche and managed varieties will hold their own in the market and will attract demand, he said.
Some strains of mcintosh apples can maintain their condition later into the season and be a little firmer than older varieties, said Tim Mansfield, sales and marketing director with Sun Orchard Fruit Co., Burt, N.Y.
“There seemed to be, in the last six to eight years, a little bit of a comeback for mcintosh, but right now the whole industry is in that flux with all the new varieties hitting the market,” he said.
“I wouldn’t say (new varieties) are squeezing out mcintosh other than just the choices retailers are faced with,” Mansfield said.
Retailers have too many SKUs in their entire produce department — not just apples, but everything.
“They are having to figure out what they’re going to carry, and certainly there is going to be pressure on varieties,” he said.
Brenda Briggs, vice president of sales and marketing for Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa., said the firm is cutting back red and golden delicious fruit while expanding planting of fujis and the branded Kiku apple.
“(Reds and goldens) are starting to fall by the wayside, but at the same time we have a great following for our golden delicious in Pennsylvania,” Briggs said, noting its “wonderful” flavor and gold color.
Fresh market growers typically have a heavy replant schedule skewed toward newer varieties, said John Teeple, owner of Teeple Farms, Wolcott, N.Y.
Varieties that have been planted to replace older varieties like empire, cortland and jonagold include Koru, SweeTango and other managed varieties, along with some strains of fuji, gala and Honeycrisp.
“The industry is in transition and I don’t think the apple category can support all these varieties,” he said.
“I think there’s always going to be a market for mcintosh, but I think that the market is becoming smaller,” he said.
Teeple said the new varieties spur interest among retailers and consumers and may be good for sales agencies. For growers, though, the new varieties present a challenge to create positive cash flow.