Ontario apple market has more than enough supply

Some Ontario orchards have finished harvesting honeycrisp, ambrosia, galas, Macintosh and Red Prince® apples. He says they’re shipping apples within Ontario as well as to Quebec, some eastern and western provinces and a significant portion of his volume goes to the US because he says there’s more supply than the Ontario market is requesting.

Crop down an expected 20 per cent
Yields are essentially down, like everyone else in Ontario according to Ken Lyons, sales and marketing director of Blue Mountain Fruit Company® – the crop was down about 20 per cent, which they were aware of before harvest. “We had some hail that came through – it hit parts of the northeast. However the growth season was really warm with a lot of rain, so the sizing will offset the fact that the number of apples is down,” says Lyons. So far pricing is static. 

Minimum wage increase concerns
Ontario’s minimum wage increase will put growers in Ontario at a disadvantage to the rest of Canada and the US. “I think that’s true of all Ontario manufacturers, its hitting the growers, packers, distributors and retailers,” Lyons explains. “The impact is multiplied; the other challenge for us is impact of US planting and supply vs demand. They’re growing more than they can sell, so the US is looking to increase their export markets.”

Marketing for buying local
Exploring connections with provincial organizations like Foodland Ontario and the Ontario Apple Grower’s Association helps them try to bring the message of buying local to consumers – plus educating them on the differences in climates where apples in the province are grown. “It’s not like an apple is grown in a manufacturing facility – not every apple from every micro climate or every type of soil is the same apple,” he says. “Even though it’s an Ambrosia, it has taste and texture differences. So we’re working on plans to identify the benefits and focus on the benefits that Ontario growers bring to the market.”

Use of imported labor
Even without wage increases there’s a large reliance on imported labor in the orchards. Lyons says it's the type of work that Canadians don’t want to do. “Unless we get to some point where the technology and new ways of picking trees, drone work, identifying trees – that tech is starting to see its way into the world market – it’s just a matter of time and financial resources for orchards and packers to be able to afford to put that into place.”

He feels that each of the orchards, growers and packer-processors will have to look at their technology and automation - ways of making themselves more efficient with less labor costs. As the wage increases over the next couple of years “when you’re harvesting apples by hand that makes a big difference.”

Red Prince available in January 
Galas, honey crisp and ambrosia are now shipping, then in January Red Prince® gets the spotlight, which is trademarked by Blue Mountain Fruit Company. “I’m told by some retailers when it’s in season (in the wintertime) it’s the #3 or #4 selling apple,” says Lyons. Another 100 acres was recently purchased and 100,000 trees are ready to be planted from the nursery. Most will stay in Ontario and some will be planted in Quebec and parts of the Maritimes. “We’re entering into some strategic partnerships with other growers in other provinces.” He describes Red Prince® as having a dark ruby red skin and tremendous crunch. “When you bite into it you get a tangy flavor profile but as you chew the sugars start coming out. It finishes sweet. 

Focus on club variety
Blue Mountain Fruit Company® was renamed in 2017, known previously as Binkley Apples. They’re focusing on the club variety Red Prince, which is backed by lots of marketing. “Consumers are looking for more authenticity and something relatable in the foods they’re buying,” he says. “With the price of meat skyrocketing (apples) tend to benefit because it’s a natural product that’s prepackaged, it’s nutritious and tasty. I think those that start to understand how to create powerful marketing in this category will be the big winners in the next five to 10 years.”

For more information:

Ken Lyons
Blue Mountain Fruit Company
Ph: 519-599-2125

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