Commission Sets Sights on North Africa
One constant in the Washington apple industry is change. And consistent with change is preparation for the future through anticipation, research, planning, market development, and, finally, implementation. As our growers retool their orchards to meet changing consumer demand, the Washington Apple Commission is planting the seeds for continued expansion of the dominance of Washington as a premium supplier of apples internationally.
With the potential of larger Washington apple crops, sights are set on developing markets such as Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and Libya, and underdeveloped markets such as Egypt. The commission has hired Kamal El Medkouri in Morocco to oversee a four-month promotion program beginning in February to coincide with the time of year when Washington apples can be imported dutyfree, under a free-trade agreement between Morocco and the United States. Although the volumes of apples moving into these markets are limited today, we see increased potential as local economies continue to grow and disposable incomes rise. Developing our Washington brand is critical to increasing shipments in this region. With European producers so close, Washington isn't well known yet, but with assistance from Kamal, the work has begun to increase awareness and business for Washington packers.
Manal El Masry joined the Apple Commission in January and will be administering promotional activities in Egypt. Egypt has been supplied for many years primarily by importers in Dubai. However, as the retail trade develops with multinationals such as Carrefour and Metro, and local retailer Hyper 1, Egypt is poised to become a consistent direct importer of Washington apples. With interests in Red Delicious, Granny Smith, and Golden Delicious, Egypt provides a solid base for Washington to expand into with other varieties. An international multivarietial promotional approach is critical to our success since Washington's apple growers are changing to meet consumer demand in their orchards.
Five years ago, Russia was an emerging market for Washington apples with 88,724 cartons imported. Already this season, Russia has surpassed the total annual shipments for 2006-2007 and is on target to reach 650,000 or more cartons this season. Much emphasis has been directed to Russia because of its diverse varietial requests and fruit size preferences. We've seen 13 Washington apple varieties arrive in Russia, with Red Delicious accounting for 61 percent of the total, followed by Granny Smith, Gala, Golden Delicious, and Braeburn. With a preference for sizes 64 to 80, Russia is an important market for sizes that typically don't fit well in our domestic marketing plans.
Problems with port congestion plagued St. Petersburg in 2007, but this season has started out smoothly with shipments of Washington apples increasing by 52 percent in January alone. With consistent arrivals of Washington apples, Irina Koviy, the commission's representative in Russia, is promoting Washington apples with several retailers, including Metro Cash & Carry. With 13 outlets in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Irina hopes to reach 25,000 consumers. Where Red Delicious is the primary variety of interest, Irina has convinced Metro to carry eight different varieties during the promotion to increase awareness of Washington's diversity. In addition, Irina led a group of Russian importers to Fruit Logistica in Berlin where they met with Washington packers as well as George Smith, the commission's representative in the United Kingdom and commission President Dave Carlson in early February.
Sales at retail are the primary mechanism that moves Washington apples through the international markets. Washington differentiates itself from competitors with quality, consistency, and uniformity at retail, making us a leader in the produce category. As international markets continue to evolve with large-scale retail formats and supply chain management infrastructure, the commission works with the industry to optimize profitability through care-and-handling seminars, point-of-sale materials, cooperative advertising, sampling, and public relation events. Recent developments highlighting health and nutrition, food safety, and obesity position Washington apples as nature's perfect snack food.
Proactive promotional ideas and new market development approaches are the keys to success in the future for Washington apples. Washington growers have maintained unprecedented demand while prices have increased 33 percent since the 2005–2006 crop year. The success of Washington apples sits squarely on the shoulders of its biggest proponent—the 3,500 apple growers of Washington State.