Michigan Sees Strong 2017 Apple Crop
Despite early 2017 weather challenges, Michigan apples seem to be settling in for a solid crop.
“We’re having a good year. We’re coming off a record crop for 2016 so we’re at about 75-80 per cent of that number,” says Chris Sandwick of Belleharvest Sales Inc. in Belding, Mi. “So if we look at a five-year average, we’re right on course for a good year.”
Sandwick notes that Belleharvest is a bit further east than key Michigan production happening in Apple Ridge. “So we didn’t see quite as difficult temperatures as they did in the spring,” he says. “Our sizing, our volume is pretty normal. We had a cold snap in May that affected the crop. We were fortunate and made it through that period.”
Demand meanwhile is strong for apples. “I’d say it’s similar to 2016—and significantly higher than it was 10 years ago,” he says. Pricing is on par with previous years.
In terms of varieties, Belleharvest does have a solid offering in HoneyCrisp apples. “We’re obviously in a cooler climate than much of the country and the HoneyCrisp are better suited to produce here,” he says. “It’s a Midwestern piece of fruit.”
In fact, he notes that Belleharvest’s HoneyCrisp storage protocol has changed the way the variety is being offered. “HoneyCrisp apples are still number one and dominate the category when they’re available,” he says. “Increasingly they’re becoming a year-round item while it used to be just seasonal availability. Now it’s becoming part of the shelf. We’ve got a HoneyCrisp program that allows us to carry into April/May and that’s unique for the East. I don’t think many others can say that and it offers us a distinct advantage.”
That said, it too is working with growing new varieties including Smitten, an apple originally from New Zealand but is expanding to include a partnership of growers in the United States. “This is the first year of significant domestic production and early indications are that consumers really love the apple,” says Sandwick.
Belleharvest also offers the EverCrisp, which is a hybrid apple of a Fuji and a HoneyCrisp apples and is coming out of Ohio. “The nice thing about the EverCrisp is it can last—it can wait until the busy time of the fall passes and can come out in the January healthy eating timeframe,” says Sandwick.
Together the varieties help position them as a snack food company, one that sees itself competing with snack food giants such as Frito Lay and Mars. “The only way you can compete against Hot Cheetos and Snickers is if you make your stuff taste good every time,” he says.
And the strategy might just be working since consumption of apples in the U.S., which has been flat for a number of years, is changing. “In the last 12-18 months, we’ve seen a slight uptick and consumption increase,” he says. “It’s a category that already has good penetration. A lot of people eat apples. But we think there’s room to grow that.”
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