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Apple season looking 'vintage' for Domex

by Lora Abcarian | January 03, 2011
Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for Domex Superfresh Growers in Yakima, WA, couldn't be more pleased with the 2010-11 apple season. "This is a vintage year for eating a good apple," he told The Produce News.

Mr. Queen said that apple volume for the 2010-11 crop increased approximately 15 percent when compared to last season. “New growers are coming on board,” he stated. “New blocks are coming into production.”

He went on to say that an average orchard’s production life is 25 years. “We’re always cycling through orchards.” Growers replace old blocks with high- density plantings, and grafting improves apple production.

A full manifest of conventional and organic apples is moved into the pipeline each year. This season, organic product accounts for approximately 10 percent of overall volume. Mr. Queen expects the organic volume will continue to bump up in the coming years to meet demand in the marketplace.

This is the time of year when Domex Superfresh Growers likes to feature Braeburns, the company’s sixth-largest variety by volume.

When asked how weather affected this year’s crop, Mr. Queen said, “Weather played an interesting role this year.” Washington is known for its micro- climates, and the production season only reinforced how changeable things can be. “Conditions varied from block to block,” he said about the orchards. And the state is two inches ahead of normal rainfall.

While cooler spring weather kept the fruit from sizing along normal timetables, Mr. Queen said, “Sugars are great. Colors are great.” With the exception of Red Delicious and Gala, apples sized well by harvest.

Domex Superfresh Growers markets apples globally to retailers and wholesalers. Mr. Queen said that smaller apple sizes are a perfect fit for export markets. This is particularly true for Red Delicious, which has been favorably received in Asian markets because of the cultural significance of the color red.

The company places heavy emphasis on category management and works with its customers to improve sales. “Category management is one of our strong suits,” he stated. “This will be critical moving forward with a bumpy economy.”

One strategy is to encourage retailers to promote alternate items so consumers won’t trade down their apple purchases.

Mr. Queen said that 2011 will present ample opportunities for bag sales. “We have a two-pound Superfresh Kids promotion,” he said. This program gets a healthy snack into children’s smaller-sized hands. Additionally, three-, five- and eight-pound bags provide consumers with good values in the produce department. “There’s plenty of fruit for those this year,” he went on to say. “There’s a nice spread in the industry in terms of grade.”

When asked about the biggest trend he sees in the marketplace, Mr. Queen said, “It’s the rise of the smart phone.” The company has used social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. But he said smart phone applications are pushing the communications frontier. Consumers are increasingly using their smart phones to access QR codes and get additional product information. “I see that as a real advantage moving forward,” he said of the future. “Tying everything together really increases sales.”