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Organics big part of Stemilt apple deal

Stemilt Growers Inc., headquartered in Wenatchee, WA, continues to grow its organic apple program. “Twenty-five percent of our volume is organic,” Director of Marketing Roger Pepperl told The Produce News Aug. 30. “It continues to be a big, big part of our program.” Stemilt places strong emphasis on apples farmed for flavor and marketed under the “Artisan Organic” label.

“Retailers with good organic programs are seeing double-digit growth,” he said.

The company continues to market a full line of conventional and organic apples grown in Washington and also offers several unique varieties to its customers. One of its newest varieties is the SweeTango, a cross of Honeycrisp and Zestar apples. SweeTango fractures like a Honeycrisp and has good sugars.

“Piñata is our signature apple,” Mr. Pepperl said. The variety has a Golden parentage and was hybridized off heirloom apples. “That apple is mature at Stemilt,” he continued. “The trees are putting out stellar fruit. We’re selling it as a truly culinary apple.”

Overall, Mr. Pepperl expects 2011-12 apple crop volume will be similar to last season’s. He said this year’s harvest will be later than normal due to weather issues earlier in the season. The Gala harvest began Aug. 30. According to Mr. Pepperl, Stemilt will have good volume on Galas, but sizing will be smaller this season, with a lot of product falling in the mid-range. This will give the company the opportunity to work with its retail partners on bag promotions.

The SweeTango harvest also began at the end of August, and packing was scheduled for early September. Apples were peaking on 72s, 80s and 88s. “They really have high color and high flavor,” Mr. Pepperl noted. The variety is marketed on the West Coast.

Honeycrisp trees are also maturing, and Mr. Pepperl said the size profile is settling down as a result. “Honeycrisp wants to be a large apple,” he laughed, adding that growing conditions have been perfect for the variety.

“We’ll have a nice crop of Red Delicious,” he went on to say.

He is worried about Pink Ladies, which are harvested in November. “If we’re 10 days late, it is concerning,” he said of threats posed by dropping temperatures.

This season, Stemilt will work with its retail partners on a number of quick-changing promotions to generate excitement in the produce department and stimulate apple sales. The company is the official fresh fruit sponsor of USA Water Polo. International competition in anticipation of the 2012 Olympic Games is already heating up, and Mr. Pepperl said a special water polo bin has been designed.

A lifestyle bin focusing on the company’s promotion, Apples: The Original Superfood, will also be available. Variety-specific bins have also been developed for SweeTango, Piñata and Pink Lady.

“We have also created organic tote bags to pick up incremental sales,” Mr. Pepperl added.

Stemilt will continue promoting its Pairology program this season. By visiting the Pairology web page, consumers will have an opportunity to learn about pairings of fruit, cheese and wine.