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Todd Hultquist, director of communications and membership for the U.S. Apple Association in Vienna, VA, told The Produce News Aug. 12 that the organization received news that morning that this season's U.S. apple crop was predicted to be 240 million bushels.

"It is one of the largest ever," said Mr. Hultquist. "And all growing regions are reporting that the quality and apple sizes are on target. As of today, production across the country is normal, and everyone is looking forward to a good year."

Mr. Hultquist said that last year's apple crop totaled 230 million bushels, which was considerably higher than the 218 million bushels predicted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast in August 2008.

When Mr. Hultquist spoke with The Produce News, he was busy gearing up for the 2009 Apple Crop Outlook & Marketing Conference scheduled for Aug. 20-21 at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago. The packed-full conference schedule included an address by Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Perishables Group, headquartered in West Dundee, IL.

"Steve will present Market Dynamics: Consumer Demand for Apples in the Next Decade," said Mr. Hultquist. "He will unveil new data on apple sales and consumer choices."

Tony Freytag, director of marketing for Crunch Pak LLC in Cashmere, WA, will present Any Way You Slice It: Reaching Modern Consumers With Apple Product Innovations. The 2009 apple crop overviews for Canada, Mexico and the Southern Hemisphere will also be delivered at the conference.

"Approximately 300 professionals and media representatives from around the world will attend the conference," said Mr. Hultquist. "The conference is tied directly to today's release of the [U.S. Department of Agriculture] report. The data are based on reports from growers in the nation at the end of July." A portion of the conference will also address marketing initiatives and consumer trends.

Mr. Hultquist additionally noted a report titled "Pennsylvania Organic Apple Consumer Market Research Study" by Ferdinand F. Wirth and John L. Stanton of the Department of Food Marketing at the Erivan K. Haub School of Business at Saint Joseph's University in Philadelphia. The report, dated July 19, 2009, stated that the purpose of the analysis was to provide guidance and input into the viability of Pennsylvania-grown organic apples and to provide a quantitative basis for the best choice or ideal apple to be grown.

In it, the authors stated that the research indicated that consumers in the study were not motivated to buy organic, but, rather, locally grown apples (Pennsylvania-grown) were show to have significantly more appeal. Consumers specifically said they would not be willing to pay the price difference that organic commanded nor did they value the organic feature. The report stated that 37 percent of those surveyed said that they had not bought any organic fruits or vegetables in the past, and only 13 percent said they bought such items usually or always.

The health, nutrition and disease-fighting attributes of apples continue to draw attention. Mr. Hultquist said that research is ongoing at several universities, including Michigan State, Cornell and St. Joseph's University. "Although there have not been newly revealed benefits from consuming apples, research continues to be conducted on apples," he said. "The preventative attributes that research has discovered for Alzheimer's disease, coronary disease, breast cancer, colon cancer and other illnesses have been important findings and have only inspired more research in the future. The U.S. Apple Association is committed to funding this research."

(For more on Eastern apples, see the Aug. 17 issue of The Produce News.)