Cosmic crisp

Cosmic Crisp apples on display in East Wenatchee, Wash., in this file photo.

WENATCHEE, Wash.—Cosmic Crisp, Washington state’s new apple, sold for top wholesale prices in its debut this winter because promotions built strong demand and supply was limited.

Meanwhile, the prices of other varieties continued to fall because of abundant supply.

Cosmic Crisp averaged $72 per 40-pound box for 244,000 boxes sold in December and January, said Desmond O’Rourke, world apple analyst and retired Washington State University agricultural economist in Pullman.

That compares with a season-to-date (September through January) average of $19.50 per box for mainstream varieties and $38.21 for other varieties, mostly small-volume proprietary varieties, he said.

The large 2019 crop and competition from New York, Pennsylvania and Michigan apples has weakened demand and depressed the prices of most varieties. “Their modest downward slide” continued through January with overall prices 11.2% lower season to date compared to the same period a year ago, O’Rourke said.

Prices of mainstream varieties are down 12.8%, and others are down 9.3%.

Brian Focht, manager of the Washington Apple Growers Marketing Association, in Wenatchee, said this is a tough year for apple prices and returns, similar to the even larger 2014 crop.

“Some shippers are a little better positioned than in 2014 with better varieties and a stronger varietal mix, so they may perform better but overall it’s a down year,” Focht said.

Cosmic Crisp is definitely a bright spot with Proprietary Variety Management, known by the initials PVM, doing good promotions, he said.

A total of 310,000 boxes of Cosmic Crisp had been shipped as of Feb. 6. The apple will be sold out soon at 400,000 boxes or less. That’s less than the 477,000-box estimate, Focht said.

“Cosmic Crisp has had a great first season; however, taking account of inflation, this is what Fuji received at the same volume in its startup in about 1990,” O’Rourke said.

Cosmic Crisp was selling at $3.49 per pound in a Pullman, Wash., Safeway store on Feb. 7, he said.

Cosmic Crisp prices will fall below $50 per box next year when volume increases to 2 million boxes and to about $30 per box the year after, when volume reaches 6 million boxes, he said.

“The law of supply and demand will not be repealed for Cosmic Crisp,” O’Rourke said.

As of Feb. 6, the average asking price among Yakima and Wenatchee district shippers for extra fancy (standard grade), medium size 80 apples per box for Gala was $18 to $24, down $2 on the low end from Dec. 6 and unchanged for size 88 at $18 to $22, according to USDA.

Red Delicious 80s and 88s were $14 to $17 per box, unchanged from two months ago.

Honeycrisp 80s and 88s were $26 to $36.90, down $4 from two months ago and down from $42 to $50.90 in October. Volume is up and this is the first season Honeycrisp has fallen below $40 per box, O’Rourke said.

Fuji 80s were $20 to $25, down $1 on the high end from Dec. 6, and 88s were unchanged at $19 to $24.

Granny Smith 80s were $18 to $24 and 88s were $18 to $22, all down $2 from Dec. 6.

Golden Delicious premium 80s were $28 to $32 and 88s were $26 to $32, unchanged from two and three months ago.

Reducing volume and maintaining good quality are keys to any late season price recovery, O’Rourke said.

The total 2019 Washington apple crop was estimated by the Washington State Tree Fruit Association at 136.4 million boxes on Feb. 1, down from 136.8 million on Jan. 1 and 138.2 on Nov. 1. The record high is 143.6 million from the 2014 crop.

As of Feb. 1, 54.4 million boxes had been shipped with 81.9 million left to sell by fall. Inventory is 14% greater than last year at this time and 6% above the latest three-year average, O’Rourke said.

Weekly shipments have been greater than in 2018-2019 but less than in 2017-2018, he said.

Low prices has contributed to strong exports, which are up 33.8% over last year, O’Rourke said.

The leading export market, Mexico, is up 27% at 3.3 million boxes. Taiwan is up 56.9%, Canada is up 22.9%, Vietnam up 30.8% and Latin America is up 57.5%, he said.

Exports to India are down 17.1% and China is down 22.3%, he said.

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