After a season during which Midwest and Eastern U.S. apple volumes plummeted and Washington production picked up the slack, this season should be more typical for the major producing states.

U.S. fresh apple holdings on Dec. 1 were 105.5 million bushels, according to the U.S. Apple Association’s most recent Market News Report, about a 3% increase from last year. Processing holdings are 15% more than last year, at a little more than 43 million bushels.

Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash., says the overall crop is shaping up to be about the same size as last year’s.

According to the U.S. Apple Association, the U.S. produced 143 million bushels of apples in the 2012-13 season; 129 million bushels came from Washington.

“Last year the Washington crop was huge, but New York and Michigan were down significantly. With Washington down this year and Michigan and New York having good volumes, the total volume is about the same,” Nager said.

He said Washington’s numbers are down to about 110 million boxes, coming up short of the initial 120 million that was estimated at the beginning of the season.

Roger Kropf, partner/manager of Core Farms LLC, Harford, Mich., said there seems to be a slight shift from last season between fresh and processed.

“The processors didn’t take as much as they might have, so more fruit went into the fresh market, which makes for a little more difficult packing season, but the fruit is moving,” he said.

Suppliers are pleased with the 2013-14 crop’s movement so far.

“We’ve experienced strong movement, which is a very nice thing,” Kropf said.

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture statistics, as of the third week of December, Michigan companies had shipped more than five times the volume as the same time last season.

The week before December 21, the state shipped 7.72 million pounds of apples, compared to the 230,000 pounds of Michigan apples shipped during the same time last year.

Don Armock, partner and president, Riveridge Produce Inc., Sparta, Mich., said the crop has handled more like a small crop, despite being large.

“We picked a record crop in terms of overall bushels, but it was relatively clean with good quality, so between storing and packing changes, we’ve handled it like a much smaller crop. There’s been great movement and good acceptance on the part of the consumers,” he said.

Nager said the size of the apples this year was affected by the weather.

“The Washington industry is expecting more large-size apples, 88’s or 80’s and larger, than in the past,” he said.

Kropf said the gala crop was a little small in size this year, though everything else sized up nicely.

“Most other varieties were in the mid-to-large range,” he said.

Booming category

Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash., said that last season, the apple category had the highest inflationary costs and volume growth in the entire produce department.

“Normally, consumers will substitute a different item for one that is experiencing price inflation, and yet last year consumers stayed in the apple category,” she said. “Volume sales during the 2012 season were not hurt by inflation or the shift in growing region supply.”

She said consumers simply shifted their purchasing patterns when the retail assortment changed.

“With the higher-value fruit on the shelf and less aggressive promotional pricing, consumers did not have the opportunity to trade down,” Wolter said.

Stable prices are also evidence of a good balance in the category.

“Prices are stable. It’s proof that our product mix is coming in line with what consumers are demanding,” Wolter said.