(Oct. 20) WENATCHEE, Wash. — Stemilt Inc. has formed a marketing alliance with Pepin Heights Orchards, Lake City, Mich., to help increase domestic sales of honeycrisp apples.

Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt, said that, while his company owns apple orchards in Washington state and California, this deal marks Stemilt’s first foray into marketing apples from the Midwest.

Pepperl said the deal will focus mostly on honeycrisp, an up-and-coming apple variety that is a specialty of Pepin Heights. While the volume of the alliance has not yet been determined, Pepperl said Pepin Heights has about 70 acres dedicated to the honeycrisp variety. The company also markets, packs and ships honeycrisp apples from growers in five states and two Canadian provinces.

“They are a leader in the honeycrisp deal,” he said. “But they are a premium shipper of all Midwest apples.”

Pepin Heights also grows and ships cortland, mcintosh and haralson apples, as well as specialty varieties such as fireside and sweet 16, its own proprietary variety. For now, however, the agreement with Stemilt will focus only on honeycrisp, though in the future it will move into the other niche varieties.

While Stemilt has no plans for similar deals with other growers in other regions, Pepperl said the deal with Pepin Heights fits in well with Stemilt’s existing marketing strategies.

“We have land ownership in California, but we’re also exclusive marketers for Sierra Hills in California,” he said. “This follows suit with that with apples in the Midwest.”

Pepperl said the details of the relationship have yet to be worked out, but the two companies are looking at ways they can best benefit each other.

“We’re looking at how we can co-market some of these opportunities that are growing on both coasts,” he said. “We have the ability to help each other with varieties that are geographically linked to our marketing areas. We have West Coast apples that they can use, and they have Midwest apples that we can use.”

The deal is also taking a different approach to marketing apples from what is going on in the rest of the industry, Pepperl said, by focusing more on domestic growing regions than on apple imports.

“If you really look at what’s happened in the apple category, you’ve seen people gravitate toward the Southern Hemisphere,” he said. “But what you haven’t seen is people take a more logical approach to selling more U.S. apples from different regions.”