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I think we can all agree the record Washington apple crop of 2012 couldn’t have happened at a better time. Severely reduced crop volumes in Michigan and New York created unprecedented domestic demand, pushing movement and prices to new heights.

However, if our other U.S. apple producing brethren had normal crops, we would be having a much different discussion today.  Market access problems in China and Indonesia would have a much larger impact without this increased domestic opportunity.  Providing Mother Nature doesn’t show her might this spring, could the 2012 season foreshadow things to come?

I’m of the opinion that our 2012 Washington apple crop of 129,000,000 boxes is a clear indicator of recent high-density plantings that are just being realized.  And you think Washington is the only State planting apple trees?  Think again!  Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania have been planting high-density orchards while reworking old cultivars to new–just like Washington.  As our volumes in the West increase, so do they in the East, dramatically increasing the total U.S. apple availability.

In my mind, with flat domestic consumption and potentially an additional 10 to 15 million boxes of apples available for sale each year, increasing export demand is priority number one!  In light of this possibility, the Washington Apple Commission is adding $500,000 in grower dollars to its export efforts to drive up demand in growth markets such as India, Southeast Asia, and China.  Every Apple Commission export program is fully funded for 2013 and these additional grower dollars are designated to new activities.  All that being said, is it enough?

Washington logo

In my opinion, no.  We can argue the merit of marketing all day, but we can’t argue the need for the entire industry to be in support of increasing demand internationally or our success will be limited.  I’m not saying industry isn’t diligently working to achieve increased international consumption—sales and marketing consortia spend millions each year to accomplish this very task.  But there’s a simple solution (although complex at the packing level) that could assist the commission in achieving our industry goal of increasing international demand—and that’s use of the Washington logo.

In markets where the retail system is well developed, the commission’s export programs are designed to impact consumers. Where the fruit moves primarily through wholesale markets, the programs are designed to influence importers. At retail, the apple sticker is very valuable real estate—I can’t express this enough.  Most packers either don’t have the Washington logo on their apple sticker, or the logo is so small it’s hard to see.  At retail, how does a consumer associate the point of sale materials located above the display with the product if the logo isn’t on the sticker?  Short answer, they don’t.  And think about this: Most often the consumer doesn’t read English, making the logo even more important.  This one change would dramatically enhance Washington Apple Commission activities and support increased Washington brand awareness.

The Washington generic logo doesn’t need to be on all our apples, but identifying the apples moving to export destinations isn’t easy.  Two-thirds of all our exports are packaged in exactly the same manner as for the domestic market and, remember, we ship on average 73 million cartons into the domestic market.  However, in 2011-12 Washington shipped nearly 12 million cartons that could be identified as going to international destinations. This is my point: If you know the apples are destined to international markets, use the generic Washington logo.  And if more stickers had a more dominant Washington logo, what would be good, too.

Cartons

The Washington logo on cartons is a different and less problematic issue.  Every international market has its own unique set of characteristics, thus the activities that drive brand awareness need to be tailored to each market.  To use India as an example, modern retail represents 10 percent of the total apple category sales. The wholesale market remains the key place for consumers to purchase apples.  Recognition of the Washington logo on the carton confirms consumer Brand awareness and plays an important role in consumer choice—Washington versus China, as an example.  Putting both the Washington apple sticker on the apples and the logo on the carton are methods to enhance Washington brand awareness with little cost.

My point is, together we are strong and we need to prioritize our strengths when supply exceeds demand.  Embrace your strengths and act in times of plenty.