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Fowler Bros. says apple crop is tight, but quality outstanding

by Christina DiMartino | January 03, 2011
"It's not a huge crop this year, but it’s an outstanding one as far as quality is concerned," said Lee Peters, vice president of sales and marketing for Fowler Bros. Inc. in Wolcott, NY. “We anticipate prices will strengthen as we head forward because of the tight crop, and there will be shortages as we head into spring and summer.”

Mr. Peters said that the volume of apples in the country is smaller this year than last year, and less that the five-year average.

“We’re guessing that in another month or so, storage reports will show that this is going to be a fast cleanup year,” he added.

Fowler Bros. produces, packs and ships a wide assortment of apple varieties, including Cortland, Crispin, Empire, Fortune, Fuji, Gala, Ida Red, Jonagold, McCullen, McIntosh, Red Delicious and Red Rome. The Empire, Crispin, Fuji and McIntosh represent the company’s larger volumes.

“Due to demand, we have increased our volume of Crispin apples this year,” said Mr. Peters. “We call it the 'other’ green apple. It eats well and it bakes well. It’s an awesome apple and we’re encouraging it as ‘another bite of a healthy lifestyle.’ It’s not super sweet like the Honeycrisp, but it has a nice even flavor mix. Several of our customers are doing demos with the Crispin, and the consumer response is great. We’ll have it available for the rest of the season.”

Fowler Bros.’ roots go back five generations. The company manages over 2,500 acres of fruit, and while its main emphasis is on apple production, it also handles cherries, prunes and plums.

Mr. Peters said that the company is not a major player in exports, with only about 2 percent of its client list being outside the United States. But domestically, it has dealt with most of its loyal customers for many years.

“Our primary commitment is to those companies we’ve worked with year after year,” he said. “And that is especially true in years like this one, when supplies are shorter than normal.”

The company is actively involved in the New York Apple Association and it participates strongly in promotional programs, such as New York’s “Pride of New York” locally grown program.

But Mr. Peters said that a locally grown program is not necessary to bring state-grown apples to consumers’ attention.

“Locally grown programs do affect the apple industry, of course, but when our apples are harvested, the eastern U.S. jumps on them,” he said. “When an item sells as well as our apples, retailers make sure they stay well supplied.”

Fowler Bros. is continually making upgrades and expansions to its operation. A few years ago, the company added 100,000 square feet of space to its packing facility. It also installed high-speed and highly efficient packing equipment to handle the large volumes it moves each year.

Because apples require gentle handling, it purchased a $5,000 impact detector called the Produce Wizard a couple of years ago.

The device features a rubber apple containing a computer chip that is placed in a bin of apples at any stage of the production process. It relays information about how abrasive that particular operation is on the fruit.

Fowler Farms also upgraded its internal software to create pallet tags. And an apple defect machine picks out every blemish on fruit destined for the fresh market.

“Our packingline is updated to fulfill our bag procedure,” said Mr. Peters. “The Fowler family members engage in continual research to find new ways to increase efficiencies and develop within by reinvesting in the business. They encourage open communication, knowing it is integral to growing and prospering. They are also very finicky when it comes to quality.”