Posted: Thursday, May 10, 2012 11:00 AM
Dan Wheat/Capital Press
Gala apple blossoms at Auvil Fruit Co., Orondo, Wash., May 1. As growers scramble to thin blossoms to keep the 2012 crop from being too large, shippers say 2011 apple inventory may run tight before the fall harvest.
Marketers fear loss of shelf space in grocery stores
By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Apple sales and prices remain strong, but with 75 percent of the 2011 Washington apple crop sold out shippers may find themselves short of inventory before the 2012 harvest.
"I think it will be more of a squeeze," said Spencer Strong, sales manager of Sage Fruit Co., of Yakima.
Demand and movement are good, volume is already tighter than last year and Braeburn, Jonagold and Cripps Pink are already cleaning up, Strong said.
"The industry will be able to stretch Reds (Red Delicious), but from my seat things will be a squeeze," he said.
Marketers don't want to lose retail shelf space between crops because it can be difficult to get back.
As of May 1, the 2011 crop is estimated at 107.5 million boxes, gaining 264,000 from the estimate a month earlier, said Dan Kelly, assistant manager of Washington Growers Clearing House Association in Wenatchee.
With strong demand and very good prices, packers have been packing all they can and sending less fruit to processing for juice and sauce. Most of the gain has been in Reds and Fuji, Kelly said.
Still the 2011 fresh crop likely will fall short of the record 109.3-million-box 2010 crop and the second-place of 108.3 million boxes in 2008, he said.
The 80.4 million boxes shipped as of May 1 is 300,000 ahead of last year so movement continues strong, still running at about 2.5 million boxes a week as it has since early December, Kelly sad.
That will slow to 1.5 million boxes a week in June, he said.
Southern Hemisphere imports have not been an issue at a normal 1 million boxes season-to-date as of April 30 compared with 1.1 million a year ago and 1.9 million two years ago, he said. Imports are heaviest April through August but are not expected to become heavy competition because of smaller Southern Hemisphere fruit size this season.
Prices continue to beat previous years. The average wholesale price of all varieties as of April 28 was $21.90 per box compared with $19.45 a year earlier and $18.75 two years earlier, Kelly said.
"Last year, being the biggest crop ever, prices were very good and this year with a slightly lower crop we even have better prices," he said.
Exports set a record at 30 million boxes last year, 33 percent of the entire crop. So far this season, exports are 100,000 boxes ahead of last year, he said.
The 2011 crop was late due to a cool, wet spring. This year's crop is expected to be more on time. Gala, the first variety picked, should start again in mid-August instead of September. A more normal harvest could help close any inventory gap between the 2011 and 2012 crops, Kelly said.
The East Coast, while damaged by freezes, should be early, which may help keep fruit on selves in the East, he said.