Apple Grower Market (Washington, Michigan)

Goals

Support a new business pitch for Wilbur-Ellis to reach apple growers in Washington and Michigan, by developing understanding of the the apple grower market in those states. Pertinent information includes the market overview, key challenges and trends, key agricultural retailers (i.e. Wilbur-Ellis and their competitors), an overview of the supply chain, the role of Certified Crop Advisors and Pest Control Advisors (CCA and PCAs), the role of trade shows, and preferred media channels.

Preferred sources are listed in the chat and include American Fruit Grower, Western Fruit Grower, eXtension Apples Community and Growing Produce.

Early Findings

Market Overview

  • Washington produces more than 2/3rds the nation's output of apples, making them the leading producer and also the source of 95% of the country's apple exports. There is a Washington Apple Commission, which represents about 1,260 growers, markets to 25 international markets to spur demand for Washingtonian apples. Important export destinations include China, India, and Mexico.
  • Michigan is the 3rd largest apple producing state in the US, and apples are Michigan's largest and most valuable crop. The state has a big focus on providing apples that can be seen as healthy and sustainable. For example, growers make sure their supply chain is well-constructed. They use recyclable packaging and shipping materials, compost tree trimmings, and use environmentally-friendly lighting and cooling. Michigan growers also combine natural methods and some organic practices to manage pests and disease, while providing consumer reassurance with full trace-back of the apples they pack and distribute. This means that if consumers want to, they can know which block their apple came from on the farm.
  • In contrast to Washington growers, the fact that Michigan is within 500 miles of more than half the US population means their apples have a smaller carbon footprint and travel less.
  • Some of the biggest apple growers in Washington include Stemilt Growers, Evans Fruit Company, Gebbers Farms, Broetje Orchards, and Borton and Sons.


Key Challenges and Trends

  • Key challenges include taxes and tariffs, although some experts are hopeful that this might ease. Another problem is the lack of labor.
  • An upcoming trend is the rise of "club" varieties like Cosmic Crisp in December 2019 (and which can only be grown in Washington). While this is an opportunity for certain states with strong universities developing new strains (like Washington and Michigan, which are supposedly behind this push), growers in other states are troubled by this new exclusivity- especially those that say they do not have as strong a marketing force behind them.
  • There is also concern about increasing clutter in the already-crowded category, with many growers being unable or unwilling to invest in new strains that may not be top performers and may be prone to disease.
  • In Michigan, one expert points to increasing premiumization as a key trend. Bill Shane, a Tree Fruit Specialist at Michigan State University Extension, posits that acreage devoted to traditional processing (ex. juice, slices, sauce) will decline. Instead, growers will devote space to supplying specialty apples for high-end fresh and craft hard cider markets.
  • Organic apples are also getting more popular, especially in Washington. More than 16,000 acres currently grow organic apples in the state. There is a lower occurrence of the usual apple pests in Washington allowing the growers to produce organic apples relatively easily and command a premium.
  • Generally, the apple market does not suffer from aging out, as other fruit growers might experience. Instead, young growers are bringing in new technology and energy into the space.

Wilbur-Ellis

  • Top competitors for Wilbur-Ellis include Target Specialty Products, Residex, DuPont, West Central, CPS, Univar Solutions, Forshaw Industries, Ag Specialties, BASF and Monsanto.

Proposed next steps:

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