When it comes to exports, Mexico and Latin America have been important destinations for Michigan apples, but in recent years, new markets like Russia and India have begun to emerge, said Denise Donohue, executive director of the DeWitt-based Michigan Apple Committee.
In a typical year, Michigan apple growers export 4% to 6% of their crops, she said. The total likely was in the upper range last year because of the state’s exceptionally heavy production.
“For us to be competitive, most of our export destinations — 13 or 14 countries — are to the south,” Donohue said.
That’s because the state competes for export markets with New York on the Atlantic Coast and Washington on the Pacific Coast.
However, during the past two years, Michigan growers have been able to break into markets in Russia, India and some of the Pacific Islands, she said.
“(Russia has) an emerging middle class that is moving beyond a subsistence menu,” she added.
Growers also hope to make gains in India and Mexico as those countries pull out of their economic malaise.
Funds to help small growers sell their apples into some of the foreign markets come from the U.S. Apple Export Council, Donohue said.
“The Michigan Apple Committee would not take on Russia by itself,” she said.
By working in conjunction with other states and with the help of federal funds, growers can commission the services of a contractor who speaks Russian and is familiar with the market there, she said.
Export volume can reach 20% of certain varieties in a good year at BelleHarvest Sales Inc., Belding, Mich., said Tom Pletcher, vice president of sales and marketing.
But exports typically account for no more than 10% of the firm’s overall volume.
Europe, Central America and Mexico are the company’s primary export destinations, although Indonesia and India may be the larger growth markets, he said.
Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, Mich., exported a couple of loads last year, said Barry Winkel, general manager.
“We only export if we need too,” he said.
The company shipped mostly tray packed red delicious apples to Honduras and to Puerto Rico. There wasn’t much of a premium last year because Michigan had a bumper crop, he said.
Besides shipping to central South America and the Caribbean last year, which are traditional markets Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., Sparta, Mich., serves, the company exported some of its apples to Mexico and to three markets the company had not shipped to in the past — Thailand, India and Singapore, said president Don Armock.
“We had great success,” he added.
The company also exported to the Middle East for the first time in several years.
Riveridge hopes to continue to serve those markets.
“It’s good for our growers,” Armock said.
Jack Brown Produce Inc. in Sparta exported more apples than usual last year, said Pat Chase, sales and field representative.
Export destinations included the Caribbean, Central America, Mexico and India.
Part of the company’s increased export volume was the result of the state’s large crop, but the firm also wants to expand its export program, Chase said, since shippers can earn a premium on certain packs.
The company shipped mostly tray packs of red delicious and gala varieties, he said.
Sometimes growers export apples that can’t find a home in the domestic market because they are too large, too small or perhaps have a striped appearance, Donohue said.
But consumers in most foreign markets have their own preferences, and shippers don’t have much choice about what varieties they’ll ship where, she said.
“They can’t create a taste,” Donohue said.