WA apple growers bank on new varieties to boost consumption

Meanwhile, over that same period, consumers increased their consumption of other fruits, such as fresh strawberries and avocados. In 1989, per capita consumption of strawberries and avocados were about 3.3 pounds and 1.1 pounds, respectively. That increased to 5.8 pounds and 7.9 pounds three decades later. 

Some in the industry worry that if consumers don’t increase their apple consumption, new apple varieties and those that grow and promote them will be competing for retail shelf space. 

“If we do not increase consumption, something’s got to give. I don’t like that scenario,” said Chuck Zeutenhorst, president of FirstFruits Marketing, a Yakima fruit marketing firm that sells fruit on behalf of several orchards. “I’d much rather figure out the consumption problem.” 

About three-quarters of the 6.8 billion fresh apples harvested, packed and shipped in the U.S. in 2020 came from Washington state, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. 

And for decades, the bright red-skinned Red Delicious was the face of the apples grown in Washington state, making up about 60% of the state’s crop. 

Today, most of the now much smaller Red Delicious crop are exported.  According to estimates from the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, just over 779 million Red Delicious apples are expected to be harvested and shipped during the 2021-2022 season, or about 15.6% of the nearly 5 billion pounds of fresh apples harvested in the state. 

Gala surpassed Red Delicious as the top volume variety several years ago, now making up about 21% of this year’s fresh apple crop, according to tree fruit association estimates. 

And Honeycrisp is close to passing Red Delicious. The variety was developed three decades ago, but Washington growers started commercially producing the variety in 2006. That year, it made up just 0.6% of the state’s fresh apple crop. Fifteen years later, it makes up about 14% of the 2021 fresh crop or nearly 700 million pounds.

Honeycrisp’s growth in this state hasn’t been without roadblocks — the apple has been challenging to grow, and often significant portions of a crop have been unsuitable for retail sale. 

But growers have been willing to weather the challenges if it means capitalizing on the variety’s success with consumers. 

“Honeycrisp is one of those things you work hard on for 30 years, and then you’re an overnight success,” said Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.

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