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OPN Connect Newsletter 304 · January 26, 2023

Stemilt Focuses on Flavor to Keep Consumer Demand High for Organics


With an eye towards sustainability, Stemilt recently launched a new apple packaging option designed to help ensure accurate organic identification at the register and facilitate sales on e-commerce platforms.

The EZ Band, as it's called, is a paper-based package for four larger-sized apples. “It fills the demand consumers have for packaged produce but offers an option that carries How2Recycle labeling for easy at-home recycling," says Brianna Shales, Stemilt’s marketing director. "Convenience and ensuring the correct scan for organics at retail has kept demand for packaged organic apples high.”

Cal Organic May 2024

Brianna Shales, Marketing Director, Stemilt

Founded in 1964, Stemilt Growers is owned and operated by a multigenerational farming family. Currently headed up by West Mathison, the Wenatchee, WA-based company grows, packs, and markets apples, pears, cherries, peaches, nectarines, and apricots and has been a longtime participant in the organic industry.

Stemilt EZ Band

Earthbound Farms May 2024

“We were the first to transition a large number of apple acres to organic production in 1989, and our Artisan Organics brand continues to innovate with new varieties and growing volumes today,” says Shales.

The company’s stone fruit program is 100 percent organic, which was a decision Stemilt made over a decade ago.

“[The EZ Band] fills the demand consumers have for packaged produce but offers an option that carries How2Recycle labeling for easy at-home recycling.” - Brianna Shales

“We transitioned to organic production way back in 2009 as a way to differentiate our fruits on flavor,” says Shales. “The climate in Washington is well-suited for growing these fruits organically, and that allows us to deliver fruit with exceptional flavor, color, and quality. Organic farming practices have helped bring soil profiles and nutrients within the soil into balance from a horticultural standpoint, which contributes to our stone fruit’s amazing taste.”

Driscolls May 2024

Cultivating exceptional flavor is a major priority at Stemilt, and Shales says it’s a key component to keeping organic demand elevated during times of inflation.

“I see organic having a bright future,” she says. “It certainly has challenges right now with inflation, but if we as producers can continue to grow flavor-first fruit that people enjoy, we will be able to grow demand and consumption for our products. The health consciousness of consumers is at a high now, so it’s a great opportunity to make our organic produce convenient, accessible, and great quality.”

“We transitioned to organic production way back in 2009 as a way to differentiate our fruits on flavor. … Organic farming practices have helped bring soil profiles and nutrients within the soil into balance from a horticultural standpoint, which contributes to our stone fruit’s amazing taste.” - Brianna Shales

OPS Retailer Reg leaderboard

In line with its flavor-first focus, Stemilt recently started offering a new organic apple variety—the Cosmic Crisp. “This Honeycrisp-Enterprise cross has a great balanced flavor and will extend its season each year thanks to great storing qualities,” says Shales. “It’s growing substantially in organic supply at Stemilt this year and in the coming years.”

In addition to Cosmic Crisp, Stemilt offers eight other organic apple varieties: Gala, Fuji, SweeTango, Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Ambrosia, and Pinata.

To ensure its apples maintain maximum freshness, Stemilt has partnered with Apeel, a produce coating company, for the last three years.

OPS 2024 Retailer Reg square

“We utilize Apeel on all organic apples,” says Shales. “The plant-based coating helps us put shelf life back into the hands of the retailer and consumer for organic apples by slowing dehydration. This improves the consumer experience by keeping organic apples crisper longer.”

“I see organic having a bright future. It certainly has challenges right now with inflation, but if we as producers can continue to grow flavor-first fruit that people enjoy, we will be able to grow demand and consumption for our products.” - Brianna Shales

In addition to its apple and stone fruit offerings, Stemilt also has cherry and pear programs. “Cherries are grown in both California and Washington for a season-long program that runs from late April to early September!” says Shales. “When it comes to organic cherries, those are primarily from Washington and available in June and July. We grow both summer and winter pear varieties, the organic season running from August to spring and conventional going year-round.”

Stemilt offers two organic cherry options, Rainier and Dark Sweet, and its organic pear varieties include Bartlett, Bosc, Starkrimson, Concorde, d’Anjou, and Red d’Anjou.

When it comes to Stemilt’s organic and sustainable growing methods, Shales highlights a few. “Stemilt utilizes integrated pest management techniques regardless of the organic or conventional status of the orchard,” she says. “We are also Bee Friendly Farming Certified, which means we meet standards that include dedicated pollinator habitat protection. In addition, we have a multi-acre compost farm that regenerates green waste from our orchards, facilities, etc. into nutrient-rich fertilizer for both organic and conventional orchards.”

Along with its growing, packing, and marketing efforts, Stemilt is also involved in a number of philanthropic activities. “Stemilt is a big supporter of sporting events and causes in the communities that we serve,” Shales says. “Our philanthropic efforts are centered around helping people with their basic needs and providing education and sport/club opportunities for youth. We sponsor soccer clubs, provide children in foster care with gifts at the holidays, and are a major contributor to Washington Apple Education Foundation to provide students in agriculture with college scholarship opportunities.”

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