The Washington apple industry is rebounding from a historic record crop in 2014 to a much more manageable and profitable 2015. With volumes in the 117 million-bushel range, and improved domestic utilization, 2015 should prove to be another good season for Washington’s 1,450 apple growers.
With about 25 million fewer bushels than 2014 and a strengthening U.S. dollar, export opportunities this season have been reduced from our record shipments of 48.7 million in 2014.
And with so many international markets in economic and political turmoil, our export expectation for 2015 is 35 million or 30 percent — the five-year average is closer to 33 percent.
My message today will not be focused on ‘issues’ in international markets, but supporting a phenomenon with positive long-term implications for our industry — the renaissance of the apple category.
But my message today will not be focused on “issues” in international markets, but supporting a phenomenon with positive long-term implications for our industry — the renaissance of the apple category.
Those of us close to the industry recognize the incredible growth and varietal diversification that is the engine driving our expansion. From 2001-14, the overall crop volume has increased by 66 percent.
However, the real story is in where that growth is — Red Delicious has only increased by 16 percent, while varieties such as Granny Smith (up 70 percent), Gala (up 211 percent), and Fuji (up 75 percent) have become apple category staples. Cripps Pink (also known by the brand name Pink Lady) has grown from 600,000 cartons to 4 million.
Honeycrisp, which wasn’t even in commercial production in 2001, is now at 6.7 million cartons and projected to continue to grow.
The growth in Gala, Fuji, Cripps Pink and Honeycrisp reflect increased consumer demand at home and abroad. The frenzy is apparent as prices for Honeycrisp skyrocket to an average of $67.15 per bushel today, driven by consumers willing to pay more for something different and appealing.
And within a few years, consumers will have the opportunity to try the new Cosmic Crisp, the product of 16 years of research by the Washington State University Tree Fruit Breeding Program.
And within a few years, consumers will have the opportunity to try the new Cosmic Crisp, the product of 16 years of research by the WSU Tree Fruit Breeding Program.
Cosmic Crisp has excellent flavor and texture and is much easier to grow than the demanding Honeycrisp. Red Delicious remains the industry flagship, and is by far the No. 1 exported variety, but new varieties are recreating the excitement within the apple category and rejuvenating U.S. consumption.
As the saying goes, “success has many fathers,” and hand-in-hand with Washington’s apple renaissance are innovative improvements in horticultural practices and technological advances in storage and warehousing, which ultimately lead to even higher quality Washington apples. Different textures, improved crispness, additions of sweet and tart flavors all lead to improvements in consumption.
And all of this hard work by Washington’s apple growers is fueling something quite extraordinary.
Since the historic low of 15.3 pounds per person in 2010, we clearly see U.S. per capita consumption on the increase, and in 2014, per capita consumption hit 18.8 pounds per person. I believe this is directly attributed to the renaissance; better apples equals more apples consumed.
Apples are the ultimate convenience health food, the packaging is edible and the core biodegradable!
Also, playing a role in increasing apple consumption is the growing awareness of the importance of fresh fruit and vegetables in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Apples are the ultimate convenience health food, the packaging is edible and the core biodegradable!
With all of the good news surrounding more varietal choices for consumers, and increased per capita consumption, there is a downside — large swings in volume. If there’s one thing we do very well in our industry, it’s plant trees. We’re so good at it, and concentrate so intently on production per acre and packs per bin, that market development often lags behind volume availability. 2014 was the most recent example, as production exceeded demand. On top of record production, the West Coast port slowdown limited export opportunities and increased pressure on the U.S. marketplace.
It’s challenging to execute a marketing plan when quantities can swing from 142 million to 117 million from season to season.
Even with the ups and downs of apple production, the future looks encouraging for the Washington apple industry. Every variety, including the big three (Red, Golden and Granny Smith), have seen dramatic increases in fruit quality because of horticultural and technological improvements.
To learn more about the new and exciting varieties in Washington, please go to www.bestapples.com.