Red Delicious still dominates exports, proponents say

By DAN WHEAT

Capital Press

GEORGE, Wash. -- Washington apple growers and shippers need to think about saving two industry icons -- the Red Delicious apple and the Washington apple logo -- according to the Washington Apple Commission.

At a Nov. 30 meeting near George, there was general consensus among members of the apple commission that, while use of both has declined in recent years, they can still be important competitive advantages for the industry in the global market.

Commission President Todd Fryhover presented commissioners with a report from Desmond O'Rourke, retired Washington State University agricultural economist, predicting Gala will surpass Red Delicious as the state's No. 1 apple variety in about six years. O'Rourke's work extrapolated a state tree fruit acreage survey released by the National Agricultural Statistics Service in August.

Red Delicious has been the state's No. 1 variety since 1935. Production of it peaked at 69 percent of the crop in 1990 and 1991. But with poor returns and an awareness that consumers wanted more variety, growers tore out thousands of acres of Red and Golden Delicious, replacing them with newer varieties.

Increased varietal mix has been the industry mantra for the past 10 years. Reds are still No. 1, but represent 30 to 35 percent of the crop. O'Rourke estimates they could be less than 25 percent of the crop in 2021.

"No one else in the world knows Reds like we do. The Southern Hemisphere comes close to us in quality on Gala, but no one does in Reds," Fryhover said. "It's unique. It's our signature apple. It's our standard."

Historically, Reds have been the least expensive to grow and pack, said George Allan, co-owner of Allan Bros. Fruit, Naches.

"When I travel, I hear Red Delicious called the Washington apple. I don't get that with other varieties," said Frank Davis, commission chairman and vice president of business development at Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima.

Historically, Reds make up 40 to 50 percent of exports and are favorites in India, Indonesia, Mexico and China, Fryhover said. "If I were a grower, I'd be planting them," he said.

Commissioners also discussed how individual company logos have largely replaced the generic Washington apple logo on fruit stickers and labels since the commission lost its domestic promotion authority in 2003.

"We are losing our brand and it won't be long before it's gone," Fryhover said. "When I look offshore and look at identity, that logo means a heck of a lot."

Davis and other commissioner agreed the logo is important and worth saving because it stands for quality.

The state has a tremendous competitive advantage with its growing climate and there's strong value with the logo among consumers but the problem is wholesalers want individual company labels, said West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers Inc.

That may change as more retailers buy apples directly, said Dalton Thomas, president of Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee.

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