Eastern apple suppliers say they were fortunate to have dodged the harshest effects of the economic downturn that some economic analysts say continues to this day.
Not that the apple industry was totally immune. Jim Allen, president of the Fishers-based New York Apple Association, said the recession has touched the industry.
“We found out last year and the year before, as the recession hit, and it hit in October, that apples are not recession-proof,” Allen said.
“The high prices at retail strongly took its tool, and sales dropped off. As prices came down, the category went back up. So, we found out pricing is certainly a big factor.”
It could have been worse, though, Allen said.
“It’s certainly more recession-proof than some of the more exotic commodities because it’s more of a standard-type commodity, and it’s still a good value, price per-pound,” he said.
“We’ve got a lot of good things to say about apples as far as health benefits and the trend against obesity and eating right and eating sensibly, and apples fit that 100% of the time.”
Matthew D’Arrigo, vice president of D’Arrigo Bros. Co. of New York Inc., New York, said the worst times are over, noting the fresh produce industry’s resilience.
“We’re not feeling the recession any longer. We did last year and it’s still here, still a fact of life, but we’re just not impacted,” he said.
“People are still buying fresh produce. They’re just being smarter with their money.”
Tim Mansfield, sales and marketing director of Burt, N.Y.-based Sun Orchard Fruit Co., said he felt fortunate to be dealing with a commodity that can be a hot seller in all economic climates.
“One thing about being in the fresh produce business is, people still eat,” he said.
“Pricing has been down the last couple of years, but some of it has to do with supply. The economy has obviously affected demand a little bit, but still, the crop gets moved and the pricing was about we wanted it to be the last couple of years. In the end, produce was a lot better off than a lot of industries.”
John Teeple, owner of Wolcott, N.Y.-based Teeple Farms, said movement had slowed down somewhat during the depth of the downturn, but it has since picked up.
“A year ago, we were seeing cases where people were buying apples but were buying less,” he said.
“It appears as though movement is back up to more normal levels.”
Pat Ferrara, salesman with Milton, N.Y.-based Hudson River Fruit Distributors, said retail customers could determine once and for all whether the recession has eased up.
“This is a competitive business, and I think this is more about what chains are looking to do,” Ferrara said.
“I think everybody is trying to re-percolate old business. They still have to eat. The chains are trying to be more aggressive, trying to get more business. There are a lot more good deals out there.”
And, there seems to be plenty of demand for apples, said Henry Chiles, owner of Batesville, Va.-based Crown Orchard Co.
But Chiles said the recession likely didn’t affect the area around his operation, which has a diverse workforce, as it might have affected other regions.
“I see an awful lot of people who are unemployed, but not in our particular area,” he said.
“People around here are working for the government, for hospitals, universities. So, I’d have to say the recession has not affected this area as much as it has hit others.”
Jack Bream, president of Orrtanna, Pa.-based Bream Orchards said the economic downturn did affect apple sales, but only to a point.
“I feel our market is more from supply and demand,” he said.
“If there’s a big supply out there, the price is going to be down, recession or not. If you have 115 million boxes out of Washington, we’re going to have trouble. If they have 95 million, we won’t have trouble.”
Perhaps of more immediate concern to the market is the ongoing strike at Mott’s, a Rye Brook, N.Y.-based distributor of processed apple products, Teeple said.
“It’s one of the biggest apple processing plants on the East Coast,” Teeple said.
“As you know, we grow a lot of fresh apples in the area, and if you get 80% packout on a fresh pack, that means 20% of your apples still have to go someplace.”
Many of them would go through Mott’s, but since the strike began in May, a lot fewer apples have been headed that way.
If the strike continues, it could spill over into the fresh market, Teeple said.
“You could start to see prices being down because we’ve got this fruit in storage,” he said.
“It’s ugly and getting uglier. We have 300 Mott’s employees in this area. It makes it hard. There are bad feelings on both sides.”
Staff writer Chloe’ Robbins contributed to this article.