A glut of small Washington apples has shrunk prices for 100s and smaller, while steady movement of a dwindling supply of large apples could send markets for 88s and larger up.
In a typical year, by March 1, about 25% of fresh-market apples still in storage in Washington are size-125 and smaller, said Keith Mathews, executive director of the Yakima, Wash.-based Yakima Valley Growers-Shippers Association.
This year, Mathews said, it’s 35%.
“A lot more small apples were harvested (in 2008) than in a typical year,” he said.
On April 14, the USDA reported a price of $10 for carton tray packs of granny smith 125s from Washington, down from $16-18 last year at the same time. Red delicious 113-125s were $10-13, down from $18-20 last year.
The reason for smaller apples can be traced to a freeze in Washington early in the 2008 growing season, Mathews said. The state’s cherry crop suffered significant damage, and it was assumed the apple crop would too.
“The message got out that there will be a small crop — harvest it all,” he said. “It was the first time in a number of years growers didn’t select pick.”
As it turned out, apples weren’t as extensively damaged as first feared. Add to that remarkably good growing weather late in the season, and Washington was left with an enormous crop — about 110 million boxes at last count, Mathews said.
Fortunately for Washington growers, given the economic downturn, demand for apples in the 72-80 range has not waned, with movement on those sizes similar as in the past two seasons, Mathews said.
Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for Yakima-based Sage Fruit Co., agreed.
“There are so few premium 72-88s that the market is staying high, and it’s just going to get tighter and higher,” he said.
On April 14, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $24-26 for carton tray packs of gala 72-80s from Washington, comparable to last year at the same time. Red delicious 72-80s were $16-18, down from $18-20 last year.
Summer promotions on big Washington apples could be limited because of a potential shortage, but supplies probably won’t run out entirely, Sinks said.
As early as January, retailers were beginning to push smaller apples, and for the rest of the 2008-09 season, large apples will make up a smaller percentage of total volumes, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for Yakima-based Domex Superfresh Growers.
Queen also said large-apple f.o.b.s would likely rise but supplies wouldn’t run out.
For smaller Washington apples, it’s a different story, Mathews said. Many retailers simply don’t want them. As a result, many that normally would wind up in the fresh market are being sold for processing, Mathews said.
Growers have seen gluts of small and off-grade golden delicious and granny smith apples in particular, Mathews said. From March 1 to April 1, 384,000 boxes of grannys and 337,000 boxes of goldens slated for the fresh market were diverted to processing.
Domex knew in August there would be an abundance of small apples this season and planned accordingly, Queen said. The company has seen strong sales of its new 2-pound small-apple totes and expects prices to remain steady for the remainder of the 2008-09 deal.
“We got the movement up early, and it has stayed that way,” he said. “We viewed it (the glut of small apples) as an opportunity to explore new markets.”
Sinks and Queen were optimistic that their companies would sell all of their small apples to the fresh market. However, some small apples may run out a month or so later than they normally would, Sinks said.
“Everyone’s making deals on 100-138s because of the abundance of them,” Sinks said. “But even though there’s a lot of small fruit, if everybody keeps pushing we should be able to clean up this crop.”
In mid-April, Sage was aggressively marketing its 3-pound bags of small reds, grannys, fujis and braeburns, Sinks said.