Early indications are that the total U.S. apple harvest for 2020, which is just getting underway, will be down as much as 7 percent, but sellers of Washington’s organic apple crop are anticipating robust volume.
It has been reported that this fall’s total U.S. apple crop will fall below 245 million carton equivalents of fresh and processed apples, with the state of Washington expected to mirror that reduction though the official Washington estimate has not yet been released. But fresh organic apple production has been on the increase for the past several years and a quick survey indicates that will again be true.
“We expect this year’s organic volume to increase over last year, which mirrors the ever-increasing demand for organic products that has only grown with the current momentum seen across the produce section,” said Blake Belknap, vice president of sales at Rainier Fruit in Yakima, WA . On August 4, he added that Rainier’s organic Honeycrisp and Gala harvest were “right around the corner,” and would be followed in short by organic Fuji, Granny Smith, Lady Alice, Pink Lady, Jazz, and Envy.
Blake Belknap, vice president of sales, Rainier Fruit
Belknap observed that while there are now a plethora of organic varieties available, the volume is concentrated among a handful of varieties, each of which is trending upward in volume. "All of the major five varieties – Honeycrisp, Gala, Granny Smith, Fuji and Pink Lady – will have more promotable volume as aligned with consumer preferences," he said. "These five varieties alone make up 90% of organic apple retail sales dollars going across the register, according to 2019-20 crop year Nielsen data."
“We expect this year’s organic volume to increase over last year, which mirrors the ever-increasing demand for organic products that has only grown with the current momentum seen across the produce section." -Blake Belknap
In the not so distant past, retailers would run out of organic apple options as the summer progressed and before the new crop was harvested. But that situation has been solved with both increased volume and better controlled atmosphere storage protocols for organics. “Rainier plans all season with the goal of year-round organic supply, which we are proud to execute for the third consecutive year with a seamless transition from old crop to new crop,” Belknap said, adding that throughout August Rainier will be ramping up its supply of new crop apples. “Within the next four weeks we expect to be into volume for organics, with kid-sized apple bags for (at-home) back-to-school snacking and a variety of new crop favorites.”
Autumn glory apple
Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, WA, began picking its new crop of organic apples during the last week of July, with Honeycrisp and Gala being the first two organic varieties to come off the tree. “These first few weeks are small volumes, but we will be packing at full speed by mid-August, adding in organic Golden Delicious as well,” said Catherine Gipe-Stewart, the longtime apple shipper’s communications manager. “We will have ad volume of organic Honeycrisp and Gala by mid-August. By mid-September we will have ad volume of organic Granny Smith, Fuji, Golden Delicious, and by mid-October we will have ad volume of Autumn Glory. Organic Pink Lady will be one of the last apple varieties harvested, and we will have ad volume by mid-December. Organic Cosmic Crisp this year will be available in time for December 1st ads.”
Superfresh Gala harvest
Domex Superfresh expects its organic volume to be up about 20 percent this year. Gipe-Stewart said the company’s organic apple portfolio volume is increasing for most varieties, both because of new plantings and also the transitioning of conventional acreage to organic production. “We are seeing increases in Organic Pink Lady, Autumn Glory, Cosmic Crisp, Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp, and Granny Smith,” she said. “Superfresh Growers has been farming the land since the late 1800s, and we are planning our farms for the next 100 years. As we plan for future generations, we see organics as an important part of growing our legacy. Organic demand continues to grow, and we are excited to grow to meet that demand. We also manage our orchards to be a biodiverse ecosystem, and farming organically is a perfect fit for that.”
Catherine Gipe-Stewart, communications manager, Domex Superfresh Growers
Noting the overall increase in demand for the category, Gipe-Stewart said sales of organic apples have been particularly brisk during the Covid-19 pandemic, with sales up 9% in dollars and 17% in volume in June, according to Neilsen Data.
“These first few weeks are small volumes, but we will be packing at full speed by mid-August." - Catherine Gipe-Stewart
She said Superfresh was able to supply its customers with organic apples this year for all 12 months. With improved technology continuing to advance, she said there is year-round availability of organic Gala, Granny Smith and Fuji.
Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager, Stemilt Growers LLC, Wenatchee, WA, said her company’s organic production will also be up this year. “I haven’t seen the latest industry numbers as it relates to organics, but at Stemilt our share of organic apples will be up over last year. This is due to increased acreage becoming certified as organic this year.”
Brianna Shales, senior marketing manager, Stemilt Growers LLC
On August 5, she said Stemilt had not yet started harvesting organic apples but that harvest will begin soon. “We will start with organic Gala, and then move into organic SweeTango and Honeycrisp. We should be shipping new crop organics by mid-August with increasing volumes as we head towards September,” she said, adding that there should be plenty of ad action for organic apples this season. “We’ll see early ads on organic Gala’s in the late August/early September timeframe. From there on out, it’s good to run regular promotions on apples. We encourage a multi-variety ad at least once a month to grow the organic category. Promoting bags, like Artisan Organics Lil Snappers is always a great option to help grow the organic category volume.”
For 2020, Stemilt will see a significant increase in its supplies of Artisan Organics Honeycrisp. “This is because we’ve certified more acres for organic,” she said. “This is a consumer favorite apple so we are really excited about having more organic Honeycrisp to share this season. We have other modern varieties – SweeTango, Pink Lady, Gala, and Fuji that are up in volume organically over last season.”