(June 20) U.S. apple movement in May suggests dismally sluggish sales, but shippers who still have product available continue to see higher-than-average returns.

The May figures, tracked by the U.S. Apple Association, Vienna, Va., don’t surprise industry members, who point to smaller 2002-03 crops in the Midwest and East as an explanation: Fewer apples mean fewer sales.

“Because of the lighter crop, it stands to reason the prices at retail stores are somewhat higher, and because of that consumers will naturally purchase less,” said Jim Cranney, U.S. Apple vice president.

PRICES

In mid-June, controlled-atmosphere red delicious cartons of size 100 were $10 from the Yakima Valley and Wenatchee, Wash., districts, and goldens were $14-16 for 80-88s.

In New York, U.S. Extra Fancy mcintosh cell-packed cartons of 100s were $26-27, and 12 3-pound film bags were $15-16.

Shippers had the equivalent of 18 million 42-pound cartons of fresh-market apples on hand as of June 1, compared with 16.7 million cartons in 2002 and 23 million cartons in 2001.

Shippers in the Midwest, who had 97% fewer storage apples on hand on June 1 than they did a year ago, moved 76% fewer apples in May than in May 2002. Midwest fresh apple holdings on June 1 were less than 16,000 42-pound cartons, with Michigan’s crop virtually gone.

On June 1, Northeastern shippers had supplies of 655,233 cartons; Southeastern shippers had 6,023 cartons; Southwestern shippers had no fresh-market product; and Northwestern shippers had 17.3 million cartons left, according to the U.S. Apple report.

Last year, Northwestern shippers had 15.3 million cartons on June 1.

BONANZA FOR IMPORTERS

Higher prices and decreased apple holdings are making the U.S. lucrative for importers, who shipped 4.75 million 42-pound cartons to the U.S. as of June 13.

At the same time in 2001, imports totaled 2.95 million cartons. As of the same time in 2002, that number was 3.86 million.

“Imports are coming in at a much higher level than the past couple of years, and I think at this time of the year there’s always Southern Hemisphere competition,” Cranney said.

John Rice, sales manager for Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa., said Mexico’s 46% tariff on golden and red delicious apples, in effect since August, also has slowed movement to that country.

“I believe that if Mexico were taking a normal amount of apples, the movement (in May) would be comparable to last year,” Rice said.

This season has been a challenge to smaller packers who want to supply customers on a year-round basis, Rice said.