Consolidation within the Washington apple industry over the years has led to a dramatic drop in the number of growers, says Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission.
Consolidation within the Washington State apple industry over the years has led to a dramatic drop in the number of growers. The Washington Apple Commission now has only 1,700 growers on its mailing list, down from a high of 4,500.
And all but one of the 13 industry members on the commission’s board represent large, integrated companies, which makes it more challenging to keep the small growers involved, said Todd Fryhover, commission president.
But, even though the industry is dominated by a relatively small number of large entities, it is still a family-based industry with a new generation of upcoming leaders, Fryhover said. Many of the major operators in the state are family owned.
Stemilt Growers, Gebbers Farms, Kershaw Fruit Company, Zirkle Fruit Company, Matson Fruit Company, and Gilbert Orchards, are just some of the companies that have a younger generation that is active in the industry. Mark Zirkle is the incoming chair of the commission this year.
“They can see their position in the produce industry, and can see the total picture, and one thing they see is the value of cooperation,” Fryhover said, noting that suppliers to big retailers, like Walmart, are forced to work together rather than compete. Instead of trying to beat the competition, these young leaders are more likely to be figuring out how to work with them so everyone benefits.
“These people, to me, are the key for the next 25 years in this industry,” Fryhover said. “What they realize is we’re stronger together than we are apart, and, specifically, when we look at the export deal, we have more strength in numbers than trying to do our own thing. We can do better as a group than we can apart, and that’s exciting.”
The Apple Commission no longer runs promotions on the domestic market, and the larger shippers and marketers now handle merchandising and promotions, emphasizing their own brands.
Fryhover expects further consolidation and integration of the industry in the coming years, but doubts that the need for generic Washington apple export promotions will ever go away. With Washington representing only around 3 percent of world production, a single company represents no more than 0.3 percent of the apples on the global market.
“There’s a big difference between the domestic and international markets,” he said, noting that Washington produces more than 60 percent of the fresh apple crop. “We have a big market share. But you go outside the United States, and we are relatively insignificant in the world picture. I think there will always be a need to have some entity promoting consumption of Washington apples.”