Storage Keeps Apple Profits Strong in Winter

Imports Complement Domestic Apple Crop in Spring and Summer

There is still a role for imported apples to the United States, even though the commonplace use of controlled-atmosphere (CA) storage has stretched availability of the domestic crop later in the year. However, retailers’ desire for year-round availability on several varieties, as well as the freshest product available, keeps apples coming into the United States from offshore.

“We try to stay with local or domestic apples as long as we can, often with varieties like Gala and Granny going into May, June and even July,” says Jeff Cady, director of produce and floral for Tops Friendly Markets, a 171-store chain headquartered in Williamsville, NY. “But, when other varieties like Pink Lady or Cripps Pink start to run out, we turn to imports.”

Indeed, most retailers stick with U.S.-grown product and defer selling imports until the domestic supply is exhausted, says Steve Lutz, senior strategist for CMI Orchards in Wenatchee, WA. “Honeycrisp and organics would be potential exceptions where the imports might arrive a bit sooner because the domestic product sells out sooner.”

Last year, Wolcott, NY-based Fowler Farms, which grows SweeTango, a cross between Honeycrisp and Zestar, began importing this variety from New Zealand in March. “Last season was a particularly good year for this apple in the spring, and we look forward to another year where we should have record sales outside the traditional fall selling period,” says David Williams, vice president of sales and marketing.

Other varieties, such as Braeburn, don’t have the same storage capabilities as, for example, a Gala.

“This, and the fact that the Braeburn does not have tremendous volume is why we tend to import them from the Southern Hemisphere,” says Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for Sage Fruit Co. in Yakima, WA. “The Southern Hemisphere apple harvest doesn’t begin until mid-February. Once these apples are packed and loaded onto a cargo ship, it isn’t until April through June that we would see any availability of these varieties.”

Beyond availability, retailers with a fresh-crop strategy will move to new harvest imported apples in the spring and summer, even when domestic is available, says Don Roper, vice president of sales and marketing for Honeybear Marketing in Elgin, MN. “The big thing is, no matter where the apples are grown, we want to offer the customer the best-tasting product. It’s all about store sales.”