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Michigan apple industry expecting second consecutive huge crop

Michigan’s apple growers appear to be hitting consecutive grand slams.

The 2013 crop was one of the largest fresh-market apple crops that Michigan has seen. According to USDA figures released July 11, 2014, the 2013 Michigan apple crop was 30 million bushels. Of that, 29.7 million were harvested.

The Michigan industry’s early and unofficial estimates indicate 2014 apple volume may be as big.

What makes this especially interesting is that in 2012 Mother Nature gave back after vicious freezes decimated apple buds throughout Michigan. The 2012 crop was Michigan’s smallest since 1944.

This summer, “the weather has been good and we’ve gained ground. We were behind early,” said Diane Smith, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee in Lansing, MI.  She said that a June meeting of the Premier Cooperative Apple Forum estimated a 28 million-bushel apple crop for Michigan in 2014.

Smith said the 2013 Michigan apple storage crop wrapped up at the end of July 2014. “Nothing is left. We had great movement. The trade worked hard” to sell the huge crop.

John Schaefer Jr., president of Jack Brown Produce Inc., added that the 2013 crop was so well received by buyers that it ended earlier than normal for some shippers, despite the crop size. “There was very good acceptance by the trade. We look to keep it going this year.”

At Belleharvest Sales Inc., based in Belding, MI, Chris Sandwick, vice president of sales and marketing indicated, “Coming off a previous season of not having any fruit, last season was a wonderful year. This season will be the same (as 2013). Maybe there will be more apples,” Sandwick noted. “It has been a long time” since Michigan had two consecutive huge apple crops.”

Showing more caution is Roger Kropf, the owner of Core Farms LLC, located in Hartford, MI. Kropf acknowledged that some in Michigan’s apple industry expect 100 percent of last year’s crop, but Kropf expects and 80 to 85 percent of the huge 2013 crop.

“It’s back to a normal crop,” this year, he projected.

“Last year was estimated to be between 28 and 30 million bushels.” This year’s crop should be about 24 million, which is a normal-sized large apple crop for Michigan. Kropf is preparing for a big crop at Core Farms. He is adding to help on his sales desk and “getting extra field quality control people.”

Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., based in Sparta, released a statement in August indicating, “Summer weather has been idyllic, although sometimes a bit on the cool side, which is good for apples. Rainfall has been regular, meaning sizing has been excellent. We continue to anticipate a very clean (Michigan total) crop that will be in the neighborhood of 30-32 million bushels.”

Riveridge offered the following 2014 Michigan apple harvest start dates. Paula Red was expected to begin in the range of Aug. 22-25. Ginger Gold harvest should begin about Aug. 29-Sept. 1. Gala and Golden Delicious are both expected to come into the market around Sept. 17-20. These will immediately be followed by McIntosh and Jonamac.

The highly anticipated Honeycrisp harvest is expected in the range of Sept. 25-27. Less popular varieties will enter the market before the harvest of Red Delicious, Jonagold and Rome around Oct. 2-7.

Ida Red, Braeburn, Blondee and Cameo are expected by Riveridge to arrive on the market in late October.

Schaefer said, “This year we’ve had cool weather and lots of moisture, so there is no stress on the crop.” Thus, Schaefer, whose firm Jack Brown is located in Sparta, MI, anticipated an excellent Michigan apple crop for 2014.

The Michigan Apple Committee’s Smith said Michigan’s early volume apple harvest will be Paula Reds in the third week of August. “Gala and Macs will start in early September. And then, we’re off and running. Everything looks good in size and quality.”

Fresh Express launches shredded broccoli and cauliflower mix

Fresh Express is launching a new shredded broccoli and cauliflower mix, which will offer a convenient, ready-to-eat, vegetable-packed salad.

fxprThe company noted that when consumers prepare a salad they often add more than just salad dressing to the lettuce, including toppings like vegetables, cheeses and protein. Fresh vegetables are added for health and taste benefits but it takes extra time to wash and prepare them. They also need to be purchased separately, leaving the possibility that leftovers could go to waste.

“We know consumers are trying to eat healthier, but often the amount of work and length of additional preparation time gets in the way of making healthy choices,” Bob Stallman, Chiquita’s vice president of marketing for salads and healthy snacking, said in a press release. “Our new shredded broccoli and cauliflower salad saves consumers time by having vegetables already washed and prepared as part of their salad so all they need to do is add dressing. It also eliminates the need for consumers to buy vegetables separately from their salads, which may save them money.”

Broccoli and cauliflower are both seeing double-digit growth in the packaged vegetables category, with restaurants and consumers looking for new ways to incorporate them into recipes and dishes. In terms of health benefits, they are known for being high in antioxidant vitamin C, a good source of fibre and low in calories. Fresh Express has taken these nutritious vegetables, shredded them with carrots and red cabbage and added them as part of a tasty spinach and red butter lettuce salad base, creating a delicious salad. Fresh Express’ Shredded Broccoli and Cauliflower salad will be available in grocery and mass stores nationwide starting at the end of August 2014.

For more information about the Shredded Broccoli and Cauliflower salad, please visit FreshExpress.com.

Chiquita rejects buyout offer, reaffirms plans to merge with Fyffes

Chiquita Brands International Inc. announced that its board of directors — after careful consultation with its legal and financial advisors — unanimously determined that the unsolicited buyout offer from the Cutrale Group and the Safra Group is inadequate and not in the best interests of Chiquita shareholders.

On Aug. 11 the pair of companies reached out to Chiquita in an attempt to acquire all of the outstanding stock of Chiquita for $13 per share in cash, which was nearly 30 percent above the share price when the offer was made. At this time Chiquita determined not to furnish information to, and have discussions and negotiations with, the Cutrale Group and the Safra Group.

Additionally, the Chiquita board of directors has unanimously reaffirmed its recommendation that Chiquita shareholders vote to approve the definitive merger agreement between Chiquita and Fyffes.

According to a press release, Chiquita remains committed to completing its transaction with Fyffes, which it believes will create a combined company that is better positioned to succeed in a highly competitive marketplace, while driving strong performance and value for shareholders.

California apple industry holding tight to its short but strong season

Richard Sambado, director of domestic sales for Primavera Marketing Inc. in Linden, CA, told The Produce News that the movement on the company’s California apple crop started around July 20, which is about the same timing as last year.

 “But that was seven days earlier that the crop started the year before,” said Sambado.  “An early start can also mean slow movement at the start. Imported apples are still moving and Washington still has some old crop Gala apples on the market.

calapGala apples ready for harvest at Primavera Marketing.“If Washington has an early start with its new crop it could put added pressure on our short window,” he said. “Movement of our crop is spotty because of this combination of situations.”

Primavera Marketing packs and ships approximately 1.3 million of the 2.2 million boxes of apples produced specifically for the fresh market each year in California.

Primavera does a nice job in that it provides a niche market, not a commodity, with volumes of fresh apples. Its “perfect” window is from late July to late August with Gala apples.

“We do over a million boxes of apples each year, but we are heavily frontloaded with the Gala variety,” said Sambado. “Galas represent 650,000 boxes this year, which is up from 550,000 boxes last year.

“These are really nice quality Galas, and we push them based on how great they are,” he continued. “But our goal every year is to move them prior to Labor Day. We are hoping to accomplish that this year, but with our early start we won’t know for a while. We’re stumbling out of the block now with this early start and hoping that Washington is not early with its crop. Otherwise we could feel price pressure.”

In addition to Galas, Primavera will have about 200,000 boxes of Fuji, 425,000 boxes of Granny Smith and around 75,000 boxes of Cripps Pink apples this year.

The company ships to retail chain stores across the U.S., into Canada and a small portion to offshore countries.

The company also packs and ships walnuts and cherries.

“Cherries are our number one crop,” Sambado explained. “About 85 percent of our cracked walnuts go offshore. The demand for walnuts in Korea and China is strong. The Chinese produce walnuts but they prefer ours because of the high quality. Koreans are extremely health conscious and they recognize our high growing standards and they appreciate the food safety initiatives in the U.S.”

Alex Ott, executive director of the California Apple Commission in Fresno, CA, concurs with Sambado about the short but highly fragile window for apples.

“We pride ourselves on always getting the freshest apples to market,” said Ott. “California producers do not store apples. When consumers buy an apple from another state there’s a chance that it’s been sitting in storage for a year. But this short window is very fragile in that many issues can affect it.”

One of the California Apple Commission’s primary functions is to make sure that the market windows are open so that companies like Primavera can continue to produce apples.

“The biggest issue we’re facing is keeping the markets open,” Ott explained. “Trade barriers are continually being set up, and this is where we play a role. We work to make sure that trade with Mexico, Canada and Asian countries remains open so as our domestic window shrinks, which it is doing, we will still have these foreign markets.”

Ott also agrees with Sambado that the market is indeed shrinking, and he pointed out that if another production area is late and California is early, its window shrinks even more.

He elaborated on some of the trade barriers the California apple industry faces today.

Mexico continues to have concerns with certain pests and diseases.

“We work to make sure that our fumigation program with Mexico is in order and that ensures them that everything we ship has been treated properly,” said Ott. “And we work to make sure that other countries that bring fruits — not just apples — into the U.S. do not have pests and diseases that could affect our crops, including apples.”

Yet another issue that previously affected the California apple industry was the starch iodine maturity standard. Ott explained that in the 1990s a standard was put into place in the state that prevented growers from harvesting Granny Smith apples until the starch and sugar met a certain level.

“This standard was based on consumers’ taste preferences,” he said. “But that shortened our market by two to four weeks, which is huge in relation to California’s window. We did some studies and found that consumers’ tastes change over time, and what they wanted back in the 90s is not necessarily what they want today. We were fortunate enough to work with the California Department of Food & Agriculture and succeeded in getting the standard lifted. Consumers now have a choice, and that has resulted in great success for our industry.”

Ott is also the executive director of the California Blueberry Commission and of the California Olive Committee, a federal marketing order. The three agencies are housed in the same building, but they have separate phone numbers, emails, websites and boards. Organizations that team up to utilize the same resources make great economic sense.

“The Blueberry Commission was formed four years ago,” Ott noted. “We established the Californian Blueberry Marketing Intelligence Resource Center, which requires all handlers to report details on volumes, pack styles and sizes, pricing, destinations and other details. This enables us to keep a handle on what is produced in the state and where it’s going. The first season we were organized, growers produced 29 million pounds of blueberries, and the numbers have increased every year since.”

The California Olive Committee functions in a similar manner, with the addition of marketing, promotion, inspection and standardization, but it’s a much longer established industry. The state produces between 95 and 98 percent of the country’s canned ripe olives.

PMA reveals finalists for Impact Award

The Produce Marketing Association revealed the PMA Impact Award finalists for 2014. PMA's Impact Award: Excellence in Packaging is a global program recognizing companies that use innovation and excellence in packaging to maximize the selling of fresh produce and floral. This award recognizes trendsetters that create and deliver bold new concepts for produce and floral packaging.

The award attracted 67 entries submitted by 56 companies. Twenty of those submissions have been identified as program finalists. Winners will be announced Oct. 17 at Fresh Summit in Anaheim, CA.

  • Apio Inc.
  • A-ROO Co.
  • Clear Lam Packaging Inc.
  • Columbia Marketing International
  • Del Monte Fresh Produce
  • Earthbound Farm
  • Fresh Solutions Network
  • Mann Packing Co. Inc.
  • Mastronardi Produce
  • Mucci Farms
  • NatureSweet LTD
  • Naturipe Farms LLC
  • Ruby Fresh
  • Sage Fruit Co.
  • Snap Fresh Foods
  • Wholly Guacamole