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Any Way You Slice It, Apples Rule!

Buyers and sellers prepare for a buoyant season
Any Way You Slice It_2

The sheer number of apple varieties grown worldwide—7,500—continues to climb as innovative cultivars are developed with resistance to pests and diseases, along with enhanced flavor, new coloring, and that oh-so-very important crunch. Despite the excitement of new varieties hitting the shelves—to the delight of retailers and consumers—a few factors are causing worry for grower-shippers and wholesalers.

Mainstay Varieties & Debuts
The United States is apple country, producing 100 commercial varieties and claiming the title of second largest global apple producer after China.

Although close to two thirds of the nation’s states grow apples, the top producers remain Washington, New York, Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, and Virginia—with Washington contributing the lion’s share of production at more than 40 percent annually.

Although production of the mainstays has remained stable, there’s been a surge in consumer interest for newer varieties based on size, color, and flavor profile.

According to Tim Byrne, the special projects manager at New York Apple Sales, Inc. in Glenmont, located outside Albany in eastern New York, Empire, McIntosh, and Jonagold mark the top of sales for production in the Northeast, but Honeycrisp, Gala, and Fuji continue to attract consumers of all ages as well.

In the Pacific Northwest, popular varieties toggle for positioning in the top five. The king of Washington’s apple industry, the mighty Red Delicious, led the 2015-16 season with 25 percent of total harvest. The Gala, however, is a major contender.

Rebecca Lyons, export marketing director for the Washington Apple Commission, based in Wenatchee, says Galas could surpass Red Delicious in production volume as soon as next year.

“Granny Smith, Fuji, and Golden Delicious round out the top five,” Lyons explains, but adds, “Honeycrisp will probably edge Golden Delicious out of the top five in the next year or two.” This doesn’t mean Golden Delicious won’t be available anymore, just in lesser quantities.

Sky Johnson, in sales and marketing for Borton & Sons, Inc. in Yakima, is excited by this leap, and believes Honeycrisp apples will set a new standard in profitability for growers—and this is very good news indeed for all grower-shippers in the region.

Newcomers hit the shelves
More ‘brand’ or so-called ‘club’ apples, developed by universities and breeding programs, are hitting produce departments and gaining consumer converts in the market. Bred for size, crispiness, flavor, texture, pest and disease resistance, and longer shelf life, these new varieties can take years to develop but have a handsome payoff for sellers.