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Brisk sales and uptick in exports at Chelan Fresh

by Kathleen Thomas Gaspar | January 03, 2011
With apple movement brisk for Northwest growers, Mac Riggan, vice president of marketing for Chelan Fresh Marketing in Chelan, WA, said his company is seeing the 2011-12 season shape up to "be like 2007," a solid year for fruit.

“Apple movement out of the Northwest is good right now,” Mr. Riggan said. “The real uptick has been in export. We've seen twice as many loads go out as we did last year.”

He attributed the jump in foreign sales to the drop in dollar value and the shortage in global supplies.

“We’re also pleased to see that Mexico’s numbers haven’t dipped even though the tariff is 20 percent across the board for shippers,” he added.

Looking at varieties, Mr. Riggan said that the Honeycrisp remains a standout in sales, and Chelan Fresh was up 40 percent in its supplies this season to help meet that increased demand.

“We’re also heavily promoting our GrannRosé,” he said of the company’s signature blushed Granny Smith. “Two key retailers on the West Coast and in the Southeast are looking to work with our program in February.”

A new variety, the Reuben, was released in very limited volume this season. Only 4,000 boxes were shipped, but Mr. Riggan said the Elstar-Gala offspring has been exceptionally well received.

“And we have a nine-acre test lot with several proprietary varieties being grown,” he said. “Some will go into commercial production in 2012.”

In 2010, the company purchased the Beebe plant on the Columbia River across from Chelan Falls. The location of the facility, previously owned by Stemilt Growers, optimizes efficiency for Chelan Fresh and reduces the operation’s footprint. It features a pear line and ripening rooms and will also be used for cherries along with Mexico-bound Golden Delicious apples.

Regarding the pear-ripening rooms, Mr. Riggan said that 35-40 percent of Chelan Fresh’s pears are conditioned. The process is primarily for Anjous, although some Concordes are ripened as well.

Looking at the new year and changes on the horizon, Mr. Riggan said, “To sum up, I think the industry continues to improve with quality and consistency. Everyone is doing an excellent job addressing food safety and traceability, and I see the tree fruit industry as being very proactive on that front.”

He said that consolidation within the industry is likely to continue, but he qualified the statement by saying, “During prosperous times, people are more independent. During tough times, you’ll see more consolidation. And there are definite benefits to more consolidation.”