Changing Consumer Preferences Could we have a Red Delicious shortage in export markets in years to come?
Change is a fact of our lives, and certainly the Washington apple industry is subject to change in regards to consumer tastes and preferences.
The U.S. retail market is demanding new and firmer varieties of apples, which has been changing our varietal mix at the orchard level. Consumers overseas are also changing their apple preferences, as incomes rise, new varieties are introduced, and the world marketplace continues to develop and evolve. Rising incomes enable consumers to purchase more of the products that were once out of reach due to limited disposable incomes. The growers of Washington's finest crop, apples, are up to the task and are responding to these changing consumer preferences.
It's clear that the growers of Washington have made tremendous strides in the last eight years to keep pace with the changing palates of overseas consumers, as well as our primary market, the U.S. retail trade.
The overall crop volume has remained relatively stable during this time period, but there are dramatic shifts in the varietal mix. Although Red Delicious remains "king" of the Washington fruit basket, Gala has gained popularity in both domestic and overseas markets. Tree survey data indicate that Gala will continue to grow in volume and one day could equal Red Delicious.
Red Delicious has decreased dramatically in the grower's quiver of varietal arrows, while Granny Smith, Gala, Braeburn, Cripps Pink, and Cameo have increased their position significantly. It's clear that our industry has recognized changes in consumer preferences and reacted with the due diligence required to remain economically viable.
However, international shipments for this same time period paint a slightly different picture of varietal interest.
It's interesting to note that, while Red Delicious represents only 33 percent of our total crop volume in 2005-2006, it represents 44 percent of the total export volume. In comparison, during the 1998-1999 crop year, Red Delicious was 54 percent of the total crop volume and represented 61 percent of the total exports. It seems that the difference between Red Delicious as a percentage of the crop and Red Delicious as a percentage of exports has increased from 7 percent in 1998-1999 to 11 percent in 2005-2006. Could we actually have a Red shortage in years to come?
With the success of Washington's Gala, producers are striving to meet customers' apple demands worldwide.