Apple prices have held up reasonably well this season, allowing for good returns to growers.
However, there were continued challenges, particularly with some of the mainline apples like reds and golden delicious, said Steve Lutz, senior strategist for CMI Orchards, Wenatchee, Wash.
These apple varieties are losing shelf space at retail, and consumers are switching purchases to Honeycrisp, Ambrosia, Jazz and other branded apples that are flavorful, Lutz said.
“The industry was also challenged with an abundance of jumbo-size apples that put pressure on prices of larger-size fruit,” he said. “But overall, it’s been a pretty strong year for our growers here at CMI.”
Season-to-date shipment as of June 15 on Washington state apples has been about 97 million boxes, down 16% from the record 2015 harvest and even with the 2014 harvest, Lutz said.
The 2016 apple crop has several unique aspects to it that added challenges for marketers and their retail partners.
The first, as mentioned above, was the size profile. “We had very, very large fruit,” Lutz said.
“With some varieties, we had 80% of our production falling in the jumbo sizes of 64 and larger. While it’s great to sell jumbo fruit, if that’s most of what you’ve got, it creates problems finding retailers willing to shift up to larger sizes.”
The second factor was an early harvest.
“We were a full three weeks ahead of normal,” Lutz said. “That meant that our fruit was maturing early in the summer when temperatures were warmer, contributing to the third challenge that we had, an unusual amount of fruit with maturity problems.”
He said CMI’s warehouses sorted out the problem fruit.
The good news so far for the upcoming apple season in Washington is there was a normal bloom period, Lutz said.
“So, we’re right on the 75-year average for our bloom dates and presumably our harvest dates in the fall,” Lutz said.
“We think the result of this will be fruit with terrific color and outstanding eating quality. So, we’re very optimistic about the 2017 apple harvest.”
Mike Preacher, director of marketing and customer relations for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash., said according to IRI data ending April 16, the top five apples in the past month were gala, Honeycrisp, fuji, granny smith and red delicious, with Pink Lady/cripps pink coming in at No. 6.
“Data shows millennials are more keen on tart/sour notes, which lends to granny smith and cripps pink trending upward,” he said.
“On social media, granny smith has been the No. 1 talked about apple for the past few years, and leads by more than 476% over the next favorite social media variety, fuji.”
This season, Preacher said Domex will be promoting its proprietary apple Autumn Glory.
“Last year, we had 100,000 boxes (of Autumn Glory) and sold out two months earlier than planned,” he said.
“This year, we have a 200,000-box crop and are planning the season to last November through March/April.”
Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan, Wash., is excited to promote its new SugarBee variety, said Tim Evans, general sales manager. SugarBee is a cross between a Honeycrisp and an unknown variety. The company offered it in small volumes last fall and anticipates having a decent volume this season and into 2018-19.
Harvested in early to mid-October, the SugarBee has a bicolored skin highlighted by a bright yellow lenticel against a red background.
“The SugarBee has been taste-tested for many years before we had it in production and everyone has been impressed,” Evans said. “It has a sweet taste and fractures well, like a Honeycrisp.”
Chelan Fresh Marketing also anticipates significantly more supply this season of its Rockit apples, which originated from New Zealand. Last season was the first domestic crop of this variety in Washington.
Brianna Shales, communications manager for Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee, said the company is preparing for its first commercial crop of Rave apples, available in early August.
“This Honeycrisp-MonArk cross has the unique ability to color and withstand summer heat, and will be the first apple off the tree in Washington state by about two weeks,” she said.
“We have small volumes this year, but are very excited to have a really flavorful apple to start the apple season off earlier this year, and as volumes grow in the near future. It’s a really juicy apple with a refreshing flavor and that classic Honeycrisp crunch.”