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Diverse apple varieties, top quality and impressive product movement are signs of the times for Stemilt Growers Inc. in Wenatchee, WA.

“Apple movement has been outstanding. Gala, Honeycrisp, Fuji and Piñata are some of the shining stars so far,” Director of Marketing Roger Pepperl told The Produce News. “There are lots of promotions and good sales at retail.”

StemiltHe summed up the state of the current season in one word: unbelievable.

The company is a premier grower-shipper-marketer of a full apple manifest comprised of both organic and conventional apples. “We move about 60 percent in the winter months,” Mr. Pepperl stated. “February and March are our biggest months, and we have full variety, which helps the cause.” Organic product accounts for approximately 20 percent of the company’s volume.

Washington’s producers harvested their largest crop in history this season, and Mr. Pepperl said Stemilt Growers’ best-case dreams were also exceeded. “The crop picked over expectation at Stemilt by 5 percent,” he commented.

The company made calculated business decisions that are paying off. “We do a good job on estimating our crops as it is important to logistics of harvest bins and our controlled-atmosphere storage planning,” he went on to say. “This is an area that Stemilt excels at and gives us a competitive advantage over our competitors. We invested heavily in new controlled-atmosphere storages and harvest bins over the past five years, and it is paying off in quality and the ‘planability’ of our crop.”

Apple quality has been outstanding, and he said sizes are running mostly in the 72, 80, 88 and 100 range. “We have sold out on SweeTango in September and October,” Mr. Pepperl stated. “We are now selling everything else: Gala, Fuji, Braeburn, Pink Lady, Granny Smith, Piñata, Jonagold, Red Delicious and Golden Delicious.”

Piñata has been a real gem for the company, and a concerted marketing program is paying off. “Our real fun project has been the Piñata packaging makeover, which has taken on the tropical look to go along with our slogan of ‘Classic apple flavors with a tropical twist’,” he explained. “We found that a flavor profile that is fun and descriptive is turning this apple into a big win. People want to know what they are buying. The bright blue colors help push it in the store as they are hard not to see. We are doing display contests, demos, gorilla marketing at the store parking lots with apple carts with people giving away a free Piñata, consumer giveaways and social media programs with retailers.”

Stemilt is anticipating retail sales will be good for five-pound bags of apples and pears displayed in newly introduced tri-wall bins.

“They have the color and look of apple and pear skins on the outside of the bin and are bright and fun,” Mr. Pepperl stated. “They come two half bins per pallet. Five-pound bags will be a big item in January as we will generate some good value bag stock fruit at this time.”

Stemilt and Sunkist have partnered together to feature Stemilt Gala apples and Sunkist Navel oranges as part of Stemilt’s “LIL SNAPPERS” fruit brand, which is geared toward children.

And social networking capability continues to grow.

“We have the Stemilt page for Facebook, Piñata Facebook page, and we are on Twitter daily,” Mr. Pepperl commented.

“We have recipes now that are pinable on Pinterest, and we continue to use YouTube as always. We are doing more with retailers’ marketing departments to help them with their Facebook and Twitter feeds. We are doing some consumer advertising both with magazines and with BlogHer, which is a blog network. We continue to work on blogging sites where we can. They are great influencers and really can wake up a product,” Mr. Pepperl added.