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With all the curve balls Mother Nature can potentially throw out during any given apple season, she allowed Washington’s growers to hit a home run with the 2012-13 crop. And Rainier Fruit Co. is all smiles.

“It’s no secret that Washington state has the largest crop on record,” Director of Marketing Suzanne Wolter told The Produce News Dec. 9. “At the same time, shipments have never been better. Retailers can be confident in the supply and quality position from Washington state. RainierOverall, sizing is slightly larger than last year, yielding prime retail sizes. We had perfect growing conditions, resulting in excellent keepability, and overall quality delivering to the retailer and, ultimately the consumer, is very good.”  

In addition to the positive feedback about the crop, Ms. Wolter added a few market insights. “Retailers across the country are reporting that sales and volume are up,” she said. “A couple of Midwest retailers have indicated that Washington apples have helped the category. We had suspected this was the case, and now we have the data to support our case.”

January, February and March are typically months during which apples are featured and volume movement is strong. And retailers are providing in-store services that respond to consumer interest. “We’ve seen an increase in dieticians under retail employees,” Ms. Wolter commented. “Retailers are positioning themselves to assist consumers with their health needs at point of purchase, and the produce department is the perfect starting point for establishing healthy eating habits and putting consumers on the road to improved health. It’s great to see the produce and marketing departments working together in conjunction with their vendor partners.”

The company is located in Yakima, WA, and is one of the state’s premier apple grower-shippers. Rainier Fruit Co. markets a full manifest of conventional and organic apples to its global customers.

In mid-December, the company launched its new variety, the Junami. Ms. Wolter said supplies will be available for shipment into mid-January.

The company has also seen positive movement with its other exclusive apple variety, Lady Alice. “Lady Alice will begin shipping early February, and supplies will be available into April. We’ve had excellent response to both of our exclusives.”

Honeycrisp sales have gone well, and volume will be available into April and possibly May. And Ms. Wolter said consumers continue to clamor for Jazz and Pink Lady, which are also showing positive reception in the marketplace.

Last November, Rainier’s new Max Line began humming. “The Max Line is an example of our philosophy that it is possible to bring new ideas and technology to mature processes without discarding existing knowledge,” Ms. Wolter noted. The company spent two years designing the line, which is seen as an evolutionary step toward faster, gentler and increasingly efficient packing.

“Traditional apple packing can be done two ways: Fruit is commit-to-packed directly from the orchard bin into a box and sold, or fruit is ‘presized’ into sized, graded and inventoried bulk bins to be custom-packed into the box later when orders are received,” she said. “By combining the benefits of commit-to-pack with the strengths of a presize, the perfect process has been created.”

This fall, Rainier introduced its new organic packaging, designed to make sure customers can easily identify organic product. “Organic growth continues to surge, and Rainier Fruit is well positioned to fill retail, wholesale and foodservice requests to increase sales,” Ms. Wolter said. Currently, organic product accounts for 15 to 20 percent of product volume depending upon the variety and commodity.