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Pepperl: Apple marketing gets ‘dynamic’

By the end of August, Stemilt Growers LLC had two weeks of solid apple marketing under its corporate belt. “Apple marketing is getting to be pretty dynamic,” said Director of Marketing Roger Pepperl.

StemiltThe company is headquartered in Wenatchee, WA and has a strong industry reputation as a grower-packer-shipper of conventional and organic tree fruit. Stemilt grows and markets a full apple manifest.

Looking at the 2013-14 apple season, Pepperl said, “The weather has been good. We had great cell division.” Growers experienced some hail storms, mostly in the Columbia River Basin. Damage varied by area. But overall, Pepperl said, “The outsider won’t know we had hail storms.”

The harvest for the company’s first two varieties, Gala and SweeTango, began in mid-August. “We’re packing pretty hard,” Pepperl said.

With favorable weather, Pepperl said it’s possible the 2013 harvest could conclude with late variety Fujis and Pink Ladies a full two weeks ahead of typical timetables. “It could be a blessing,” he said. “We’ll have good quality and color.”

He expects sizing to peak on 80s and 88s for all varieties except Galas. “The one apple that will be a little larger is Fuji,” Pepper added.

Organic production is still a big deal at Stemilt, with organic apples accounting for 20 percent of the company’s overall volume. “Demand exceeds supply,” Pepperl said of marketplace conditions.

The positive on the consumption side is overshadowed by elimination of the use of oxytetracycline, one of the major agents to control fire blight in organic apple and pear orchards, as of October 2014. The organic industry is working to find a solution, and Pepperl said he expects new tools will be developed in the future. In the meantime, he said some growers may have no option except to revert their organic orchards to conventional production as a precautionary measure.

On other fronts, a new apple line will come into full production in 2014. Stemilt is also conducting a massive remodel of its orchards. “We’re the biggest Fuji player in the state,” Pepperl said. The company is planting new Fuji strains such as the Aztec and Banning. “These Fujis really dominate at Stemilt,” he went on to say. “They have good flavors and good shape. They have really good color.”

New generations of Galas are also going into the ground, and plantings of Honeycrisp are increasing. “Storage protocols will allow for storage of Honeycrisp,” he said, adding that the techniques will help maintain good flavor and acid in the variety. “We have taken some really actionable steps on Honeycrisp.”

The company’s volume of the exclusive Piñata variety continues to grow.

Stemilt continues its big push with the “Lil Snappers” brand of fresh fruit for children. The programs includes apples, pears and citrus. “It’s already generated big attention,” Pepperl stated.

A host of social networking and blogging opportunities have helped to promote the brand among consumers. According to Pepperl, consumers are also receiving the message through the Produce for Better Health “More Matters” program. The message will be reinforced with the “Tasty Healthy & Fun” promotion.

“It allows retailers to go to market three different ways,” Pepperl observed. Through the “Tasty” component, retailers can feature an apple of the month. With the “Healthy” component, store dieticians can become familiar with the health attributes of fruit. “And ‘Fun” focuses on the recipe aspect and things to do with kids,” he said. “We can use ‘More Matters’ and put some muscle behind it.” The program enables retailers to earn role model status with Produce for Better Health.