( Photo courtesy Priscilla Du Preez; Source Unsplash )

Sales weren’t the problem for organic apples in 2019, but markets were, said Addie Pobst, organic integrity and logistics coordinator with Mount Vernon, Wash.-based Viva Tierra Organic Inc.

“2019 was a volatile year, with some bigger-than-usual swings in pricing and varietal availability,” Pobst said. “We’re hopeful that 2020 will bring a more stable and predictable market and supply.” 

Consumers who buy organics like choice as much as conventional apple purchasers do, Pobst said.

“Organic consumers seem to really enjoy having lots of varieties to choose from and are especially interested in trying unusual or new varieties within a familiar category such as apples or pears,” she said.

The organic apple category continues on its upward trend, Pobst said.

“Organics continue to grow and the market is strong,” she said. “Organic continues to make inroads into mainstream retail channels and is showing no signs of fading. It is here to stay.”

Last year, organics lifted the apple category, representing 11% of apple dollar sales, said Catherine Gipe-Stewart, communications manager with Yakima, Wash.-based Domex Superfresh Growers, quoting Nielsen data through Nov. 30.

She noted that Nielsen reported organic apples were up 4.1% over the previous 52 weeks. 

“Organic apples have been seeing growth over the year, but there is room to continue the momentum,” Gipe-Stewart said. 

“There is plenty of supply to continue organic promotions for 2020. Healthy New Year is an ideal time for upcoming promotions.”

Nielsen had other good news about organic apple sales, said Tony Freytag, CEO of Cashmere, Wash.-based Crunch Pak.

“There is tremendous opportunity for organic category in fruits,” he said.

“Apples were the No. 1 item in dollar sales for 2019 in the organic fruit category. Sales increased by 4.3% since 2018.”

Organic apple promotions now are becoming more commonplace than before, said Brianna Shales, communications manager for Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers LLC.

“It used to be that organic promotions were rare, but now that organic apple volumes have increased, it’s time to promote organics,” she said. 

“Consumer demand for organic produce keeps on growing. At Stemilt, we’ve been growing organically for 30-plus years now, and our organic apple volumes are now focused around the modern varieties that consumers want.”

More than 40% of Stemilt’s Honeycrisp crop is certified organic, and the company generally has plenty of organic fuji, Piñata, Pink Lady and, in the fall, SweeTango, Shales said.

“We want to see retailers promoting organic apples regularly through the late winter and spring months — multiple varieties on ad at once,” she said.

Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co. is working to keep up with growing demand for organic apples, said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing.

“The demand for organic has remained strong,” he said. “Not only are we planting new acreage of organic orchards, but we are actively transitioning many of our conventional orchards.”

Fostering further growth in the organic apple category will require work on the part of grower-shippers, as well as help from retailers, said Dan Davis, director of business development with Wenatchee-based Oneonta Starr Ranch.

“We’ve had tremendous growth in organic supply and now we’re working with retail to grow the market,” he said. 

“There is a large amount of potential in the market and it’s been a challenge to get the right offerings out to retail at the right time. It’s an evolution for sure.”

Elgin, Minn.-based Honeybear Brands is doing to what it can to meet growing consumer demand for organics, said Don Roper, vice president of sales and marketing.

“According to data from the Organic Food Association, U.S. organic food sales increased an average of 8.8% annually from 2014 to 2018,” he said. 

“Consumer choices are continually evolving. We have been matching the organic trend by transition orchards into organic production for many years. It’s an important part of our mix and not just here in the U.S. 

“We have the largest planting of organic Honeycrisp in the Southern Hemisphere. We are growing, packing and shipping premium organic varieties from the best apple producing regions in North and South America, providing our retail partners with year-round supply assurance of fresh apples and pears.” 

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