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Rice Fruit says Mother Nature was quite gracious this year

In the fresh produce industry, Mother Nature’s kindness is never taken for granted, nor is her wrath ever underestimated.

Gardners, PA-based Rice Fruit Co. Vice President of Sales and Marketing Brenda Briggs said that Mother Nature was quite gracious with growing conditions for the current stored apple season.KIKUR-brand-apples---Rice--NY-Produce-Show

“As a result of the good growing season the stored condition of our apples is quite good,” said Briggs. “We constantly evolve our storage protocols each year, depending on variety, past experience and condition.”

She added that the Pennsylvania apple crop industry was fortunate to have a remarkable start to the past season.

“A nice quality crop with harvest trending early, while other regions trended later, gave us a window of ‘first-to-market demand,’” she pointed out. “Here at Rice Fruit Co., we kicked off the season with two of America’s favorites — Honeycrisp and Gala.”

Rice Fruit Co.’s Honeycrisp volume hit markets in mid-August this year, followed by Gala.

“The markets were hungry for the fresh off the trees, locally grown apples,” explained Briggs. “We had a strong harvest that followed, with many varieties sizing well and packing a bit over our original estimates.”

Flavor too has been exceptional for Rice Fruit Co. this year. Briggs said it was fortunate to be in a position to start so early which provided the market opportunity to celebrate the fresh, local crop and support promotions with its customers.

“In partnership with our customers, this momentum has carried forward through harvest and into the winter holidays,” she said.

Although the Rice family history of growing fruit goes back to the 1790s when Daniel Rice immigrated from Germany, in its current form the company was founded in 1913 by Arthur Rice.

Like other small farmers in the area, Daniel Rice and his descendants grow apple trees in the scenic foothills of the South Mountain, the eastern-most ride of the Appalachians.

The region has ideal soils and topography that forms effective micro-climates for growing many kinds of fruit.

With these valuable qualities, a commercial fruit growing industry began to develop in the 1900s. Rice Fruit’s first packing house was built in 1913 in Biglerville, PA, and throughout the twenties and thirties the company shipped apples all over the world.

In 1955, Arthur Rice, Jr., built a new packing facility in Gardners, which remains the site of the operation today. He also formed a partnership with William Lott to form R & L Orchards Co., to grow high-quality fruit to be packed by Rice Fruit Co.

The partnership between the Rice and Lott families continues to this day.

Today, Rice Fruit Co. receives, stores, packages and markets fruit for over 40 farm families in the surrounding areas.

Briggs said a small slice of its apple program is in the export market.

“We focus our exports in the Central America and Caribbean markets,” she explained. “We have found prices to be somewhat stable thanks to long-term customer relationships.”

When she connected with The Produce News, Rice Fruit Co. representatives had just returned for the New York Produce Show.

“It’s always exciting to see customers and industry friends at this show,” said Briggs. “We also just kicked off our Eastern KIKU apple season. Our KIKU apple fans are passionate about one of the sweetest apples you’ll ever taste.”

“Our Honeycrisp import season from Nova Scotia, Canada, also recently began,” she continued. “Our variety lineup also includes Fuji, Gala, Golden Delicious and many other popular varieties.”

Rice Fruit’s state-of-the-art facilities holds its apples at “just harvested” quality that delivers the same great flavor and crunch customers have come to expect from the company. It continually makes upgrades and improvements to its facility, including the latest and most innovative technological advances.