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Perfect timing for apples & pears

With winter still calling for coats, and apples and pears still in peak season form, Starr Ranch Growers believes the Southern Exposure produce show of the Southeast Produce Council offers a great opportunity to mix business and pleasure.

Oneonta Red-Anjou “Who doesn’t want to head to Florida when it’s still cold out,” asked Dan Wohlford, national marketing representative for the Wenatchee, WA-based company, which is transitioning its moniker to the Starr Ranch designation from its Oneonta Trading Corporation roots that date back more than 80 years. “This is the perfect time of the year for us to talk about apples, pears and even cherries.”

Wohlford said the SEPC event has proven very successful at attracting retailers from not only the Southeast but from all over the country. “Trade shows like this give us a great opportunity to see a lot of our customers in one place at one time. We probably do a half a dozen shows like this each year. The one-day show is a great use of time for retailers and suppliers.”

Top of mind for the Starr Ranch representative this year will be the great opportunities that exist to promote both apples and pears. He said this year’s Washington apple crop is featuring smaller-sized fruit so that is where many promotional opportunities lie. So far this season, there has been some great opportunities on bagged fruit, but he said bulk sales of fruit sized 113s or smaller can also offer attractive promotions. “We’ve seen some retailers price those sizes at three or four for $1,” Wohlford said. “They are also perfect for tote bag promotions.”

Another good opportunity lies in the organic sector of the apple department. Washington’s organic apple crop packed out at about 11 percent of total volume giving many suppliers, including Starr Ranch Growers, lots of room for promotions. “Organics are growing by leaps and bounds,” Wohlford said. “They are still experiencing double-digit growth. We keep expecting sales to level off but they keep growing.”

He said that while organic apples still are priced higher than their conventional counterparts, the price gap has narrowed, which is seemingly convincing more consumers to give the option a try. Wohlford said some of the varieties will run out of supplies during the summer, but for the spring there are a lot of options.

“The organic apple sizing is a little different (than the conventional side). They are running 80s to 88s and 100s,” he said, adding that some varieties will start to decline but there should be good volume of most through April, May and June. Starr Ranch Organics is the company name for this portion of business.

On the pear side, Diamond Starr Growers, which is how the firm refers to its pear production, finished up its Bartlett crop in early February and transitioned to the Red and Green Anjou varieties as well as the Bosc. Wohlford said for pears the promotional opportunities lie with the larger fruit. “We have a lot of big pears in the 60-80 size range.”

With regard to organics, he said pears in this category are few and far between. For a variety of reasons, pear growers have not transitioned to organic production in the same fashion that apple growers have.

While it might be a bit early to talk about cherries, Wohlford does expect to field some questions on the crop at the early March Southern Exposure show.

“It’s a little bit early to know anything,” he admitted, noting that bloom will still be at least a month away and so the crop will have not yet been made. “We do know that we are going to represent more cherry acreage this year. It’s our experience that around April 1 retailers want to start talking about cherries.”

Washington’s cherry crop typically begins harvest in late June.