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Red Delicious still tops with many Hess Bros. customers

by Christina DiMartino | January 03, 2011
Despite the growing popularity of the newer, up-and-coming apple varieties, the Red Delicious is still the variety that is most in demand in some parts of the country.

"The Red Delicious is having an excellent year," said Fred Hess, co-owner of Hess Bros. Fruit in Lancaster, PA. “The crop is outstanding quality, and that's driving reorders. The Reds we’re packing this winter are eating phenomenally and are selling extremely well.”

He noted, however, that there is an apple flavor for every taste bud, ranging from very tart and crisp to super sweet and somewhat soft. The company handles all of the popular varieties that are produced in Pennsylvania in addition to the Red Delicious, including the Gala, Golden Delicious, Honeycrisp, McIntosh and Empire. Movement on the Gala, a strong and growing variety, has been extremely good.

“People have picked up on the flavor of the Gala, and it seems to be evolving into the apple of choice for many,” said Mr. Hess. “We’ll be finished with the Gala for the season in the not-too-distant future. The Honeycrisp is also in the running for varieties in high demand.”

Mr. Hess agreed that the health and nutritional trends are among the reasons the apple industry is enjoying its upswing in business the past couple of years. Government-based programs that address obesity and other health- related issues have people thinking more conscientiously about their food choices.

He also agreed with others in the apple business that there will likely be apple shortages heading into spring and summer.

“We’re way ahead of last year in moving stored supplies,” he explained. “Prices are firm now, and they will likely be stronger as we move forward. Volumes across the board are tight this year, and demand continues to increase as consumers are made more aware of the health benefits associated with apples.”

Domestically, the majority of apples from Hess Bros. are sold to retailers in the eastern United States under the “Nature’s Best” label. Mr. Hess said that the company continues to export some apples to foreign countries.

Mr. Hess and his brother, Jerry Hess, represent the second generation to operate the company, which has approximately 50 employees who handle over 20 varieties and 1.5 million bushels of eastern apples.

The company specializes in an extensive variety of premium apples that are sourced through a network of handpicked orchards. It distributes to a wide range of outlets, such as grocery stores, retail outlets and restaurants.

“My nephew, Ryan Hess, is working in apple procurement,” said Mr. Hess. “He works directly with Jerry, who oversees our grower supplies. Andrew Figart works with me in our sales department. He joined us about two years ago. Zach King joined us in the human resources department last fall. These are all younger guys, and we’re excited about bringing these bright, enthusiastic people into our firm.”

In recent years, Hess Bros. has made several internal modifications to its facility to help it keep pace with the strong and growing demand of apples. Among them was a conversion of space to create a continuous cold chain from storage throughout the shipping points.