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Roarin’ March readies apples for stronger prices

The apple season continues to roar along and Stemilt’s latest Fruit Tracker Fast Facts analysis is proof of strong category performance in March 2019. According to Nielsen scan data, apples made up 8.2 percent of fresh produce sales on average in the U.S. between Feb. 24 and March 30. The volume of apples was down 1.8 percent year-over-year and dollars were up a nominal 0.2 percent.Pinata-Apple-6659

“With less volume in this crop and supplies starting to dwindle because of seasonality, we expect to see strengthening apple prices in the coming months,” said Brianna Shales, Stemilt communications manager. “The 2019-20 apple crop is trending two weeks later than last season’s crop start and that will add pressure on supply and demand during the late summer transition.”

Regionally, the Midwest topped the national average, with apples making up 9.4 percent of fresh produce sales in March 2019. The Northeast was second with 7.7 percent of fresh produce sales from apples, followed by the South at 7.5 percent and the West at 7.8 percent.

The top five apple varieties in March 2019 were Gala, Honeycrisp, Fuji, Red Delicious and Granny Smith. Gala volumes were up 14 percent year-over-year with dollars also up double-digits at 10.7 percent. Gala accounted for 27 percent of March apple sales. Honeycrisp has also seen volume growth of 9.3 percent and dollar growth of 7.2 percent when compared to March 2018. Honeycrisp made up 24 percent of apple dollars in March.

“Gala has been moving in a positive direction all season. The quality of Gala this year has helped this top variety and helped drive consumer demand for apples,” said Shales.

Stemilt’s signature apple, Pinata, saw sales increases in March 2019 when compared to the year prior. Fueled by good sizing and great eating qualities, volumes of the tropical apple were up 4 percent and dollars up 6 percent in March.

“Pinata is a fun success story in apples,” said Shales. “Quality has been exceptional this year and we’re looking forward to some fun Cinco de Mayo celebrations with this culinary apple before we shift into imported Pinata apples this summer.”

The average retail price of apples in March 2019 was $1.69 per pound. Organic apples were up nearly 2 percent in volume year-over-year and made up more than 9 percent of total apple volumes sold in March 2019. The average retail price for organics was $2.19 per pound, a 30 percent premium over conventional apples.

“It’s been a great building year for organic apples,” said Shales. “Stemilt’s Artisan Organics program is celebrating its 30th birthday this year, and the anticipated larger crop of apples in the 2019-20 crop will certainly help us continue to lead the strong momentum on organics with shoppers.”

As spring fades into summer, it will be time for produce departments to focus on seasonal crops, yet Stemilt cautions retailers not to forget about the apple category. Stemilt currently has opportunities on select organic apples, including Gala, Fuji and small Pink Lady apples. Conventionally, Red Delicious, Pink Lady, Gala, Braeburn and bulk Granny Smith are all areas to look at for apple promotions.

“The summer season is still apple season,” said Shales. “Retailers can look to Stemilt to guide them all the way through the seasons to keep their apple category roaring along.”