BY TAD THOMPSON | JANUARY 07, 2020
High-value apple varieties are being spotlighted in 2020 by Applewood Fresh Growers LLC. The Michigan grower-packer-shipper is particularly educating consumers to understand the many strengths of its KIKU and Kanzi varieties. producing its own specialty apples, Applewood is increasingly involved in global sourcing to provide its customers with great supplies of new, exceptional types of apples.
Nick Mascari, Applewood’s president. is testing apple varieties in the ground as part of the work toward serving the trade with the best of oncoming special new apple varieties.
SweeTango apples were packed by Applewood Fresh Growers in September. Photo courtesy of Applewood. The firm is also promoting the SweeTango variety and Mascari noted that, in 2019, Stemilt granted rights to Applewood Fresh to grow and market Rave in the Midwest. Rave is a new apple variety developed at the University of Minnesota. It is a cross-pollination between the HoneyCrisp and MonArk apple varieties.
For KIKU, Kanzi and Rave managed varieties, Applewood is the Midwest sales agency region representative.
The firm also ships EverCrisp “which is not a managed variety, but it provides a great eating experience for the consumer.” Applewood continues to plant more EverCrisp “and our bearing surface have more fruit as the trees mature.”
The popular Honeycrisp is also part of Applewood’s mix.
Applewood has five test blocks in the ground for potential new varieties in test blocks. “We are on the forefront for new sport varieties, and new strains of old varieties, atop having new managed varieties.
“We are trying to shift our customers to some of the higher value varieties,” Mascari continued. “There has been a decline in the past couple of years in apple prices not only due to inflation but for the category as a whole. This has been accelerated by a race to the bottom on price by the industry as a whole.”
In the U.S. apple business in 2019, supply exceeded demand. The market was worsened by heightened global tariffs, which in 2020 were still negatively impacting U.S. apple exports.
Mascari said in January that smaller fruit sizes produced in the West “were forced to come our way and some regional players wanted to compete solely on price.”
Thus, promoting higher value apples with managed varieties should improve profits for Applewood.
Applewood had a good 2019 growing season and thus is offering good supplies on all its varieties. Beyond aforementioned apples, these include the “legacy varieties” such as Red Delicious, Fuji and Gala.
“We have plenty of fruit going into the new year,” Mascari noted.
Importantly, “at the end of the day, we are becoming a 52-week supplier. We are looking strategically in the U.S. and outside the U.S. to build our program. Our main focus is our U.S. program but when and if it’s tight, we want to import. That, most likely, will be from New Zealand.” But, he added, that Applewood owner Scott Swindeman is looking around the world for potential sourcing opportunities for high-value, managed apples.
“We are always looking to diversify. We want to offer our customers what they want when they want it. That is an important part of our future.”
Mascari quoted an unknown source with the wisdom offering: “If you don’t like change, you’ll like irrelevance even less.”
Mascari said that broad sourcing is partly a defensive measure. He said, for example, that if Applewood were to have a down production year for Galas, the firm wants a program to provide Galas from other sources to continue serving customers. “It’s all about having a compelling reason for the customer to stick with you through the entire season.”
Applewood has been importing SweeTango from New Zealand, beginning each April, for several years, Mascari said. That fruit arrives by sea container into Philadelphia.
Based in Sparta, MI, Applewood packs apples at its own Grand Rapids plant, as well as at Elite in Comstock Park, MI. This season for the first time Applewood is also working with a grower-packer-shipper in Hart, MI.
Partnering with Produce Moms
Antonia Mascari, Applewood’s vice president of marketing, indicated that she is partnering with her lifelong Indianapolis friend, Lori Taylor, to promote Applewood’s high value apples to consumers. Antonia and, her brother and co-worker, Nick Mascari both grew up in Indianapolis Fruit Co., which was led by their father, Mike Mascari. Taylor got her start in promoting fruits and vegetables as an Indy Fruit staffer. She later created her own external business. Which now includes promoting special apples through Facebook and other media for Applewood.