Sage Fruit's Chuck Sinks Discusses Expanding Organics and the Cherry, Stonefruit, and Apple Season
YAKIMA, WA - There’s no rest for those in produce, with month after month giving way to another new season of growing, packing, and shipping fresh fruit and vegetables. When I touched base with Chuck Sinks, President, Sales and Marketing, to see how Sage Fruit was faring this season, I learned that the company is juggling not one, not two, but three different seasons, along with its efforts to expand its operations and organics program—the true definition of a busy bee.
“Sage Fruit continues to grow and innovate at an accelerated pace. Thanks to our strong leadership team, our growth is 100 percent strategic and we are making sure that we are bringing on the right varieties as well as the right orchards and growers,” Chuck told me. “We just finished up our cherry season and it was an excellent season; fruit quality was fantastic, and volume was up from the previous year. We strive to pack only the best cherries, and this season, we received positive feedback from around the country that was nothing short of amazing. Now, we’re focusing on our stonefruit and apple crop.”
Sage Fruit just hit the mid-way point for its stonefruit season, with apricots now over and tree-ripened peaches and nectarines still having a little less than two months left. Chuck noted that Mother Nature provided exceptional growing conditions for peaches and nectarines this year, which led to great quality. As a result of this quality, it led to repeat purchases and positive consumer feedback.
Apples on the other hand didn’t receive the same blessing from Mother Nature. Chuck shared that the weather has been warmer than ideal, which is slowing the color formation on the apples. However, once cooler nights roll in, the color should return to what Washington is so well known for. Sage Fruit has started picking Gala and Honeycrisp in conventional and organic, with larger fruit and top-notch quality already coming out of the orchards. Gold Delicious and early Fuji harvest is up next on the company’s to-do list.
“The market is currently fairly static. Many apple varieties in Washington will bridge the gap and carry through until their 2018 harvest. This will prevent a lot of the large fluctuation in prices caused by lack of product and the startup of a new crop,” Chuck explained. “Prices will strengthen with each new variety coming off the tree, but it will be less dramatic than what we often experience. We will continue to see substantial growth in both our conventional and organic apples starting this year with new crop apples. This growth pattern will continue over the next several years as a part of our overall strategic plan.”
On top of juggling all of these categories, Sage Fruit is also honing its organics program across almost all categories and varieties it grows and packs. Chuck revealed that Sage Fruit’s organic apple and pear programs have really taken off in the last couple of years, and that next year will see a large increase in organic nectarines and peaches.
“Sage Fruit owns roughly 80 percent of the fruit that it packs and sells, which gives us ultimate control of our future. We have been very focused on transitioning the right blocks with the right varieties. Our growth rate in organics has been very high; over the last three years, our organic program has climbed from 4 percent of our total tonnage to around 20 percent,” Chuck divulges. “In addition to providing some of the world’s best tree fruit, SageFruit prides itself on offering first-class customer service. We are very proud of where we are today, but more importantly, we are very proud of where we are headed.”
It’s cliché at this point to say the future is ripe for Sage Fruit, but with growth on the horizon across the board and another season of high-quality stonefruit and apples hitting retail now…the future is seriously ripe for Sage Fruit.