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Rainier seasons, sales exceptional for Rainier Fruit

Rainier Fruit Co., headquartered in Yakima, WA, is in an interesting position, Marketing Director Suzanne Wolter said Nov. 14 to The Produce News.

“Rainier has established a tremendous following for our cherries due to our reputation for quality and service throughout the U.S., Canada and some export markets,” she stated. “Even as our volume has grown, we’ve found ourselves in a demand-exceed situation daily each season.”

Blueberry production has been another success story at Rainier. “This 2011 season, we shipped over 4 million pounds of central Washington blueberries, all grown on company-farmed acreage,” she continued. “In 2012, we’ll produce approximately 6 million pounds, 100 percent of which will be organically grown. We’re establishing a niche within the summer growing season for our organic blueberries, selling them throughout the U.S. and Canada.”

According to Ms. Wolter, fruit quality for cherries and blueberries was exceptional. “Customers and consumers alikeRainier commented on the fantastic eating quality due to the flavor and size sent to market,” she noted.

Apples and pears marketed throughout the year also are exceptional in 2011. “With regard to the current crop of apples and pears, the summer growing conditions have produced a very clean crop of great-tasting fruit,” Ms. Wolter stated. “Demand is brisk for both apples and pears. Shipments started about two weeks later than last year due to the delayed harvest. Sales on both over the most recent four weeks have outpaced last year’s movement.”

Approximately 20 percent of the company’s volume is organic. “Organic apple and pear volume has grown 40 percent in the last three years,” Ms. Wolter commented. “Organic demand continues to increase, especially for private-brand packages.”

This past summer, Rainier Fruit Co. invested approximately $3 million in its organic packing facility in Prosser, WA. “We’ve upgraded the apple packingline with the newest sorting equipment available, such as near-infrared sugar testing, pressure-sensor testing and color/sizing grading machinery,” Ms. Wolter noted. Purchased in 2004 specifically for the company’s burgeoning organic volume, it remains one of the larger organic-only pre-size facilities in the Northwest.

Apples and pears continue to generate marketplace excitement. “With regard to pears, the volume is up over last year,” Ms. Wolter said. “Sizing is slightly smaller and pricing will be conducive for promotions throughout the season. Smaller sizing will present kid-focused opportunities as in-out options.”

Moving into the holiday season, Rainier is focusing on reenergizing its ripe-pear program. “The first of their kind, our pear rooms were built about six years ago, and one of the biggest challenges with this program has been educating store personnel about the benefits and handling of ripe pears so they can pass the information along to consumers,” she went on to say. “New this season, the jiffy pads included in the ripe-pear box are pre-printed with details about ripe pears, how to ripen, how to tell when they’re ripe and how to handle. Furthermore, we developed a ripe pear secondary display unit to create a high-graphic, impulse-purchase location within the produce department to draw attention to the pears. Response from retail on both has been very positive.”

The company’s newest apple variety, Junami, will make its debut in select retail locations around the country in early January. “Volume is limited,” Ms. Wolter stated. “So we anticipate a short selling window of two to three weeks. Volume will grow quickly over the next two years.”

Secondary display bins continue to increase sales in the marketplace. “Retailers were especially interested in the new apple varieties and the secondary display bins created to serve the dual purpose of establishing an eye-catching, creative and informative display location within the department, or for use as an impulse-purchase location in other areas around the store, such as at the front end near cash registers or near a complimentary item, such as in the deli next to the specialty cheese,” she continued. “Many of the newest varieties are somewhat limited in volume. So we’ve encouraged retailers to feature them as a variety of the month, moving from one to another as supplies dictate, to introduce consumers to new flavors and bring additional dollars not only to the apple category but the produce department as a whole.”

Ms. Wolter said that the company is encouraging retailers to look at apple varieties currently available to develop ad opportunities rather than focusing on last season’s promotional programs. “The apple category is changing quickly,” she explained. “We have pulled several varieties out of production to make room for newer varieties such as Honeycrisp, Lady Alice, Junami, Pink Lady and Jazz. It’s important to focus on future growth varieties in order to increase profitability in the apple category.”