Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc. expects continued strong demand as the domestic apple deal heads into spring and summer, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.
Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc. expects continued strong demand as the domestic apple deal heads into spring and summer, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.

Shippers expect continued steady demand for high-quality U.S. apples, with Washington fruit expected to be smaller than usual for the duration of the season.

Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc. expects continued strong demand as the domestic apple deal heads into spring and summer, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.

“Movement is good now, it’s been good all along, and we expect good things for the balance of the season,” Pepperl said Feb. 27.

In late February Stemilt was in the middle of a big push on pinatas, Pepperl said, with pink ladies also selling at a fast clip. Sales of other varieties has been strong this season, though Stemilt still had adequate supplies of fujis and galas.

Southern Hemisphere galas will likely find homes in North America when the import deals start to heat up, Pepperl said, but for the most part, domestic supplies will still carry the load.

“Imports always have an impact, but I think they’ll find themselves up against quite a bit of product,” he said.

Imports will likely be up this year, but that shouldn’t soften demand for Washington apples, said Randy Abhold, vice president of sales and marketing for Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co. “It’s not like there’s not room for both of us to play,” Abhold said.

While not as strong as last season, demand has been steady so far this season and Abhold expected more of the same for the balance of the season.

On Feb. 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $17-19 for carton tray packs of red delicious 100s from Washington, up from $16-18 last year at the same time.

Gala 88s were $24-26, up from $20-22.

Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co. reported consistent demand in late February, and expects that to continue for the duration of the season, said John Rice, the company’s vice president.

Movement was very brisk the first few months of the deal, Rice said. But with Honeycrisps running out in October and galas in January, and fujis winding down in late February, demand had slowed.

“Without those, it’s hard to get as much interest,” he said. “It’s going to be quieter the rest of the way.”

The quick start to the deal, however, combined with a smaller crop — about 25% smaller than last season — will likely mean that Rice Fruit’s apple deal will wind down in July, instead of the typical August stop, Rice said.

Apples continue to be on the small side this season — one to one-and-a-half times smaller than normal — but retailers have done a good job of accepting that fact and designing programs to move smaller fruit, Pepperl said.

“Size had been a challenge all year, but that shift (be retailers) is what has allowed this crop to sell so well,” he said.

Bag sales of smaller apples have been strong, Pepperl said, but bulk displays of small fruit also have done well, Pepperl said.

“A lot of people are on 100 programs for bulk, and a lot in 72s and 80s have moved down a size,” he said.

The 2011-12 apple marketing season, nationwide, has been a good mix of product from Washington, the East and the Midwest, Pepperl said.

“They’ve blended well,” he said, referring to apples from the three regions. “We’re optimistic with what’s been happening.”

From late February through July, Rice Fruit will be shipping mainly red delicious, golden delicious and romes, Rice said.

Size profiles should be normal and quality good for the duration of the deal.