Variety is the Name of the Apple Game

Despite ongoing improvements in orchards, harvests, and storage, apple growers still face numerous difficulties getting their fruit from tree to retailer to consumer in perfect shape.

At times, the weather has been one of the hinderances, but predictions for the 2018-19 season are looking for an otherwise healthy crop.

And this year, like in years past, growers are searching for the next big thing—to create a sensation and bring the kind of attention the Honeycrisp has enjoyed since its introduction by the University of Minnesota.

Years after its debut, the Honeycrisp cultivar continues to have a profound following in a market where consumers crave flavor, juiciness, and crunch.

As the industry continues to transform itself, it’s fostering new varieties while reducing reliance on old standbys. Making this change is perceived by some as essential to the future of apple production.

While apple flavor is generally the No.1 attribute for consumers, retailers and foodservice buyers are often looking for other qualities such as size, texture, and color.

Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers, LLC in Wenatchee, WA, believes this year’s crop will be smaller, but the apples themselves will be bigger, which is good news—as he says it leads to “better pricing and sizing for the retail market.”

Sally Symms, vice president of sales and marketing for Symms Fruit Ranch Inc. in Caldwell, ID, expects bigger apples this year too, in the range of 72 to 100 count. “I think we’ll have a good crop,” she says. “Last year the apples were smaller.”

Another grower, Phil Schwallier of Schwallier’s Country Basket in Sparta, MI, disagrees. He believes this year’s crop will be of normal size, but more tasty than usual due to less rain. Phil and his wife, Judy, grow a variety of apples in western Michigan and were among the first to try Honeycrisp. The Schwalliers also happen to be American Fruit Grower magazine’s 2018 Apple Growers of the Year.

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full article.

Annemarie Mannion is a former reporter for the Chicago Tribune and freelance writer with more than 20 years of experience. She writes for a variety of business publications and websites.