Congdon Orchards Inc. is the latest Washington producer of apples, pears and
cherries to join forces with grower cooperative FirstFruits of Washington,
headquartered in Yakima, WA. FirstFruits Chief Executive Officer Keith
Mathews said that the company is a welcome addition. "They really help
round us out," he told The Produce News in mid-December. In all, Congdon
will bring a half-million packages each for apples, pears and cherries to the
Mr. Mathews characterized the 2010-11 apple season by saying, “Business is
remarkably good. We're very pleased. We’ve been able to progress our
The company specializes in high volumes of Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith and
Honeycrisp bolstered by good quality on Reds, Goldens and other apple
varieties. In a previous interview, Mr. Mathews said FirstFruits anticipated
marketing 8.5 million cartons of apples for the 2010-11 season. Fifteen
percent of overall volume is organic.
Cool, wet conditions during production resulted in more blush on Fuji, Granny
Smith and Golden Delicious than is typical, resulting in some reduced grade.
“Some will go for third-grade packaging or processing,” he went on to say.
“Supplies will be restricted in the coming months.”
This is the second season for marketing of the Opal apple variety, a firm,
sweet yellow apple grown exclusively by cooperative member Broetje
Orchards in Prescott, WA. FirstFruits has exclusive rights to market the Opal
in the United States. “We have a small volume, but production doubled,” Mr.
Mathews noted. “We’ve had wonderful retail acceptance. I have been
exceptionally pleased with the response.”
Sales for the Opal, available as both convention and organic product, will
conclude at the end of the month. “When you have something sparkling, you
offer it to your good customers,” he added.
All apples marketed by the company are sold to global customers under the
Mr. Mathews was asked about apple pricing, given the brisk movement of the
crop to the marketplace. “Pricing averages are above what we expected this
year and better than last year,” he replied. Two or three years ago, he said
that retailers used apples as a profit center. For the 2010-11 crop, he said
retail competition is strong.
Members of the cooperative are committed to agricultural sustainability and
product traceability. To illustrate, he said that Broetje Orchards has worked
extensively to meet the most stringent Safe Quality Foods safety and quality
management program standards. “We’re on target for [the Produce
Traceability Initiative]. It’s expensive, but all of us in the industry have, in
every case, to be traceable. Producers are moving forward rapidly.”