In a seemingly perpetual demand-exceeds-supply category, it appears retailers across the country will have plenty of opportunities to promote organic apples this season.
“We will see a substantial increase in organic apples this year,” said Brianna Shales, communications manager for Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, WA. “It’s very promotable on the retail side.”
In fact, Shales said this is a crop that retailers are going to have to promote to create some “pull.”
Steve Lutz, vice president of marketing for Columbia Marketing International, another large Washington apple grower-shipper, agreed that there will be plenty of opportunities for organic apple promotions beginning almost immediately. He said the new gala crop is in full harvest and other varieties are lining up behind waiting their turn.
Over the next six weeks, Washington will harvest the bulk of its organic production, which has been estimated at 13 million cartons this year. Those apples will be sold over the next year. That represents a bit more than 10 percent of the total crop, which has been estimated at almost 131 million cartons. The organic volume is at the highest level it has ever reached. Lutz estimated that the total organic crop will be up about 20 percent this year as lots of orchards are completing their transition period.
“At CMI, we are expecting a 15 percent increase in organics, which follows a 60 percent increase last year,” Lutz said noting that organics account for more than 20 percent of the firm’s total production.
Lutz touted the firm’s Daisy Girl organic brand, calling it the number one apple brand at retail for packaged apples. CMI will have organic apples in all of its varieties including the standard varieties and the six branded varieties that it sells. Kiku, Kanzi, Ambrosia, Jazz, Envy and Pacific Rose.
Shales advised retailers to treat organic apples much as they do conventional when promoting the category. “We recommend putting multiple varieties on ad so you don’t cannibalize sales.”
She said that five varieties available from Stemilt will be especially ripe for organic promotion this year: Gala, Honey Crisp, Pink Lady, Fuji and the firm’s proprietary Piñata variety. About 30 percent of Stemilt’s apple production is devoted to the organic category.
While increased supplies are great for consumers and retailers, not all producers are excited about the idea. Cuyama Orchards, a niche organic grower shipper of California apples, who grows in the hills east of Santa Barbara, said the increase in organic apple volume by the large Washington firm is “commoditizing” the category. “I’m not a commodity shipper,” said Operations Manager Byron Albano. “I’m a grower of specialty apples.”
He added that he is re-evaluating his product mix as he can’t be profitable if he doesn’t get the premium previously associated with his organic production. However, he also noted that the increased volume in the last few years has not yet cut into his margin, as his customer base has remained strong and supportive. He reflected that increased promotion could very well expose organic apples to more customers, increase demand and maintain a healthy supply/demand equation.