For apple marketers, this season is about as tough as it gets - at least in recent memory.

A snapshot look at apple pricing reveals the market is still softening with the harvest pressure of a big fresh apple crop in Washington state. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Custom Average Price tool reveals that the “snapshot” price of Washington red delicious the last few weeks has slid from $21.25 per carton on Sept. 27 to $17.43 Nov. 15.

The U.S. Apple Association reports that on Nov. 1, total U.S. fresh-market apple holdings of 145.5 million bushels were 21% greater than November 2013 holdings of 119 million cartons and 34% above the five year average of 108.5 million.

The reported 154 million carton fresh apple crop harvested in Washington state this year far eclipses the 129.5 million crop of 2012.

Washington’s Honeycrisp variety f.o.b. price has slipped as well, but from a far higher perch. The USDA “snapshot” tool showed the Honeycrisp f.o.b. fell from $65 per carton on Sept. 13 to $41.50 per carton on Nov. 15.

USDA season to date shipment figures for apples from Washington state indicate about 28 million cartons of apples have been moved through Nov. 8 this season, including both conventional/organic and domestic/export. That is up from about 21.7 million cartons shipped season to date last year.

Michigan and New York shipments were close to last year’s pace, with the USDA reporting 2.7 million cartons of apple moved from season to date from Michigan through Nov. 8, down from 2.8 million cartons shipped the same time a year ago.

New York apple shipments through Nov. 8 were 2.49 million cartons, about unchanged from a year ago.

Movement of all domestic and imported apples from August through Nov. 8 totaled about 47.3 million cartons, up from 42.3 million the same period a year ago.

The bottleneck of union labor slowdowns at West Coast ports of export isn’t helping the overall apple market, said Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association.

“It’s a tough marketing year without a doubt,” Allen said. Both New York and Michigan apple crops didn’t pick out to expectations, Allen said, possibly because of touch winter conditions last year.

“The good news is that the packouts (in New York) are pretty strong,” he said.

The Commerce Department reports the average retail prices for red delicious every month. The latest average retail price, from September, shows the $1.40 per pound average retail price for red delicious apples is only 1 cent below the same month last year. We should start to see a significant decline in average prices in the months ahead, if the slide in f.o.b. prices is any indication.

Retailers appear to be promoting apples aggressively.

The USDA national retail report said that apples were by far the most promoted produce item in the Nov. 14 report, accounting for 25% of all fruit retail ads, compared to 11% for grapes and 10% for pears.

The report said that 6,639 retail stores were promoting gala apples the week of Nov. 14, up from 5,537 stores the same week last year. The average advertised price of galas was $1.30 per pound, down from $1.44 per pound the week a year ago.

The heavy inventory of apples won’t go away overnight. But aggressive retail promotion, strong export sales and bargain-fed domestic consumer demand should eventually allow prices to stabilize and perhaps inch upward early next year.A great way for marketers to brighten their mood is to do a Twitter search for “Honeycrisp.” Here are a few Tweets I found Nov. 17:

@StrandThatRISP Michigan honeycrisp apples are the man right now.

‏@PURA0514VIDA It’s Honeycrisp season! Mmm my favorite apples! #crisp #apples #health #cleaneating http://instagram.com/p/vgktW6n23D/

‏@RealSkunkApe That honeycrisp apple I just ate was tasty as hell. #thuglife

 

TK: As apple markets go, this season is about as good as it gets for consumers.