Organic apple sales continue to blossom in Washington
Apple grower-shippers in Washington say they will have plenty of organic fruit this year, which will keep pace with rising demand.
“Our Pacific Rose organic numbers are up significantly,” said Karin Gardner, director of corporate communications with Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group.
Brewster, Wash.-based Crane Family Orchards is the primary supplier of Oppy’s Pacific Rose apples, Gardner said, describing the variety as “a sweeter apple with a very broad appeal, thanks to its mellow flavor, crisp texture and attractive pink skin.”
Organic apple volume is expected to continue to increase “substantially” in the next several years, as many growers are moving their production into the category, said John Long, director of the Union Gap, Wash., office of Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc.
“Overall organic movement is good, and the volume sold is growing each year,” Long said. “The challenge is to have movement keep up with the organic production.”
The challenge of organic production and sales is that nearly all of the volume goes to retail markets, and their demand is limited to “the best sizes and grades, leaving the packer/growers trying to find a profitable outlet for the lower grades and non-peak sizes,” Long said.
More club/proprietary varieties will move into the organic category in the next few years, Long said.
Don Roper, vice president of sales and marketing for Elgin, Minn.-based Honeybear Brands, said he anticipates “an oversupply” of organic apples this year.
“We have transitioned a lot of acreage, and the demand is not quite on par with supply,” he said.
Honeybear is rolling out a new 2-pound pouch program for organic Honeycrisp, fuji, gala, Pink Lady and granny smith varieties, Roper said.
Meanwhile, Honeybear has finalized the transition of nearly 100 of its own acres from conventional to organic, Roper said.
About 55% of the transition is Honeycrisp, with the rest being “the other key organic varieties,” including gala, Pink Lady, fuji and granny smith, Roper said.
“Specifically, we will be over-indexed in Honeycrisp organics, as that has been the key focus of our transition efforts the past several years,” he said.
“That, along with organic mainline varieties, puts us in a great position to provide the 100% year-round-supply assurance of organics. I think we will be pushing close to 200,000 cases of organics this season.”
Organic fruit is long-established at Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers LLC, said Brianna Shales, communications director.
“Organics have been on a steep growth curve in Washington state over the past several years,” she said. “With a bigger crop, we are looking at bigger volumes compared to last year of organic apples.”
Thirty percent of Stemilt’s apple crop is grown and certified organic, Shale said.
“We’ve been growing organically for 30 years, and our Artisan Organics program is celebrating its 30th birthday this year. We are big into organics and, just like conventional, will be encouraging retailers to go big with their organic apple promotions this year.”
Chelan, Wash.-based grower-shipper Chelan Fresh is reporting increased volume in its organic apple production this year.
“Approximately 20% growth,” said Kevin Stennes, organic sales manager. “(We are) excited to see our SugarBee variety growing in organic volume.”
More organic volume is coming out of Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co., as well, said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing.
“The demand for organic has remained strong,” he said. “Our organic program is continuing to grow. Not only are we planting new acreage of organic orchards, but we are actively transitioning our conventional orchards.”
Currently, about 18% of Sage’s apple tonnage is organic, Sinks said.
“That number continues to grow each season,” he said.
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