Suzanne Wolter
Suzanne Wolter

Organic apples may be difficult to grow in the East, but suppliers say the category is still growing.

“We’ve tried some organic work,, and we’re continuing to work towards it,” said Peter Forrence, vice president of Forrence Orchards Inc., Peru, N.Y.

He said the company is working on new varieties that would make organic growing better suited to the Northeast.

“If those varieties prove successful, we’ll once again give organic a push,” he said.


West less challenging

However, suppliers in the West report organic business is booming.

“Because we are in a dry climate, we don’t have the pest issues faced by many other regions of the country, which run the gamut from mildew to insects, making it a little less challenging to bring a volume of high-quality organic fruit to market,” Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Rainier Fruit Co., Yakima, Wash., said in an e-mail.

Wolter said Rainier Fruit has enjoyed an increase in organic business.

“Organic apple volume has increased substantially the last few years, and our season has extended accordingly,” she said, adding that apples are a “gateway” produce item.


Retailers expand section

“Sales of organic items continue to grow, and retailers in turn continue to increase their organic space and offerings,” she said.

Other companies also have seen the effects of this trend.

“Organic apples account for 25% of all organic fruit produce department sales, behind berries at 34%. The next highest fruit is organic bananas at 12%,” said Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash., citing data from Nielsen Perishables Group’s August 2012 Fresh Facts.

In order to help distinguish organic apples from those that are conventionally grown, Nager says retailers often separate the two products.

“Retailers will typically display them in a separate organic section as not to confuse shoppers by having them right next to the conventional display,” he said.


Supplies also increasing

This increase in organic sales has meant an increase in the percentage of organic fruit offered by major suppliers.

“The industry is estimating approximately 9.6 million boxes for this year, up 45% over last year. Red Delicious is up 80% vs. last year; Fuji, 73%,” Nager said. “Domex is up over 60% versus last year as well.”

Nager says organics make up about 9% percent of Domex’s crop, but they expect that percentage to increase with steady growth over the next five or 10 years.

“We are north of 20% organic at Stemilt,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc. “It continues to be a cornerstone of our business.”

Companies also strive to help distinguish organic apples with packaging.

Rainier Fruit introduced new organic packaging this fall, carrying over the design from its organic blueberry packaging.

“Our goal is to make sure that consumers can easily identify the product they are purchasing is organic,” Wolter said in an e-mail.

Columbia Marketing International Corp., Wenatchee, Wash., uses bright packaging instead of more neutral, organic tones, on its organic Daisy Girl line.

“We figured the true-blue organic consumers will buy the product no matter what, so we want to capture those folks that are on the fence and bring them over to the organic category with bright colors,” said Bob Mast, vice president of marketing.