Demand is strong for Michigan apples.
“It is up compared to past years,” says Angela Sommers with BelleHarvest Sales/Michigan Fresh Marketing in Belding, MI. “As a state, Michigan bag sales are up quite a bit. Approximately 66 percent of what was shipped in the past five weeks were bags and trays were down to about 20 percent.” Bagged produce sales in general have increased in 2020 given the perception from consumers that bagged product is safer to handle in the midst of a pandemic. “Overall, we’ve been moving more fruit than we did last year. As an industry, I think we’re going to run through fruit a little more quickly than we have in the past, though we still have quite a bit of fruit,” she adds.
Angela Sommers of BelleHarvest Sales/Michigan Fresh Marketing.
Meeting that increased demand is a slightly smaller crop though. “We feel like we’re a little bit down compared to prior years. But that’s mostly in varieties such as Red Delicious,” says Sommers.
Increasingly, Red Delicious is a variety that’s being replaced in orchards by more popular, higher value varieties such as Honeycrisp, Smitten, EverCrisp and others. “But the sales for Red Delicious are still strong because there aren’t a lot of them throughout the country. While retailers have started to purchase less, they’re still on every shelf,” says Sommers.
New packaging campaigns
Helping move the fruit for BelleHarvest are new packaging campaigns. In September, the company launched a pouch program featuring characters from Nickelodeon’s popular PAW Patrol show. The three lb. bags each feature a character matching a variety: Chase with Heroic Honeycrisp; Marshall with Fired Up Fuji; Skye with Gotta Fly Gala. “We’re trying to reach a younger audience to encourage healthy snacking with high-flavor apple varieties,” says Sommers.
Then in October, the company also introduced its sustainable packaging—a paperboard carton for three lbs. of Honeycrisp, Fuji and Gala (each variety features a different color). The packaging is 100 percent recyclable and made from renewable resources. “We understand it will take time to get retailers and consumers to adapt to a new style of purchasing apples. However, requests for eco-friendly packaging have increased, so we’re trying to meet that demand with style and functionality,” says Sommers.
Meanwhile pricing on apples has been up slightly compared to last year. “This is great for our growers who are investing more and more into their operations,” says Sommers. “We’re unsure if into the winter months pricing will hold or we’ll see more fluctuations. But if shipments stay strong, pricing would stay steady as well,” she adds.