Stemilt Growers' Brianna Shales, Chelan Fresh's Mac Riggan, and Sage Fruit's Chuck Sinks Discuss the Washington Apple Season
WASHINGTON - The Washington apple season is in full swing, with fruit coming off the tree earlier than years past following warm summer temperatures. Both Stemilt Growers and Sage Fruit report smaller sized apples following the hot weather, but high qualities on a more modern mix of varieties than in years past.
“Washington State isn’t looking at a record apple crop like last year and we’re seeing smaller fruit than normal this year,” Brianna Shales, Communications Manager for Stemilt Growers, tells me when I ask about how this season is going compared to last. “The variety mix is exciting this year with increased Honeycrisp volume as well as good supplies of other consumer favorites like Fuji, Pink Lady, and Pinata.”
Stemilt is about halfway through the season and ready for Braeburns, Pink Ladies, and Aztecs Fuji, a high colored Fuji that Stemilt has large volumes of, to come in soon. Brianna tells me the grower also continues to focus on developing its organic apple program.
“Organic apples are a growing category and we’ve been on the forefront of organics since the inception of our Artisan Organics program back in 1989,” Brianna tells me. “We’re transitioning modern varieties to organic now and expect organics to be a bigger part of the apple category in the future as supply works to match demand.”
Currently, Stemilt is packing plenty of the crowd favorite Honeycrisp, as well as new crop Fuji and Pinata apples. Gala harvest is complete and the company will begin Braeburn and Pink Lady harvest soon. On the whole, apples are down one to two sizes this year, resulting in additional smaller fruit for promotions.
“It’s going to be a great year for promoting our award-winning and industry-leading 3lb. Lil Snappers kid-sized fruit program. We have a full complement of kid-favorite varieties available in our branded pouch bags that are being promoted as back-to-school items now and will be ideal for driving volume and dollar sales of smaller apples to the category all winter long,” Shales said.
Mac Riggan, Director of Marketing for Chelan Fresh, also shared that apples are smaller in size and, therefore, this would be a big season for apple bag sales.
“Right now more fruit sizes are coming in at the 100’s to 113 sizes, which could lead to seeing a premium for apples that are 88 and larger,” Mac explained, adding that though the state supply is down to about 125 million boxes of fresh apple crops, the quality is without question.
The sizing report for Sage Fruit, who is just wrapping up with its Gala harvest, is consistent with this as well. President of Sales & Marketing Chuck Sinks tells me, “Quality is good, but with all the heat we had in Washington, we just don’t quite have the sizing we did last year.”
Last year’s Galas were in the 80 to 88 size range, he tells me, saying that in contrast this season’s peak is looking to fall between the 100s to 113s.
Chuck also added that Washington is turning out a good, promotable crop that Sage Fruit is excited about.
“We are also going to have some new Star Wars bags,” Chuck said. “With the movie coming out soon, that should help move Gala bags.”
Mac also shared that while the Washington fires have been a struggle for the state, Mother Nature has lended a hand as far as harvest weather.
“You couldn’t order weather better than this,” he tells me, saying that it has been in the mid-70’s during the day and mid-50’s at night, ideal for apple picking.
Currently producing Red, Golden, Grannies, Fuji, and Honeycrisp apples, Chelan is also turning the focus to their apple pouches with a new poly bag program and design that displays information like variety, where the fruit comes from, and a taste meter clearly and visibly on the front.
“A lot of consumers want to know what they are eating, where it’s from, and what it tastes like, and this will remove a lot of that confusion,” Mac said. “So I think it will be a big hit.”
When it comes to demand, apples are still what the consumers have an eye for.
Mac said that Washington saw good demand last year and will be looking for more within the export markets and for the smaller sizes. “China’s open to our fruit now, so there will be more opportunity this year to move crop in a profitable fashion.”
Chelan is anticipating Pink Lady and Braeburn apples in the next couple of weeks, as well as Ambrosia, though Mac adds that the grower also has a strong Canadian Ambrosia and Honeycrisp program for retailers looking to currently get high quality in either category.
The company is also in the midst of its Fuel Up to Play 60 promotion, which partners up with the NFL to motivate youth to be healthier and more active. Mac said there is more to come with this promotion later in the season as everyone gears up for the 50th Super Bowl.
AndNowUKnow will continue to keep you up to date on apples and other produce categories, so keep checking in for all the latest industry news.