Three Michigan apple companies have linked up to form All Fresh GPS, a limited liability company that will market fresh apples across the United States and into export markets.
GPS is short for growers, packers, and shippers, which describes the activities of the three entities. They will market about 10 percent of Michigan’s entire apple crop, or about 20 percent of the Michigan apples sold fresh. That 20 percent would be about 2 million bushels in an average crop year.
Co-managers of All Fresh GPS are Tom Curtis and Scott Swindeman.
Curtis is president of Michigan Fresh Marketing, based in Belding, Michigan.
Swindeman is vice president of Applewood Orchards, which is located in eastern Michigan. It is operated by brothers Steve, Scott, and Jim Swindeman.
The third partner is Ridgeking Apple Packing and Storage, which has storage and packing facilities in Belding and also 20 miles away on Fruit Ridge near Comstock Park. Ridgeking is owned by the Heeren family, and brothers Bruce and Dan Heeren will work in sales with Swindeman and Curtis.
Ridgeking also owns orchards, but contracts them out to others and sells the apples. Applewood Orchards is the only partner that grows and stores its own apples and markets its apples and those of other eastern Michigan growers.
The three partners have worked closely in the past. Michigan Fresh Marketing was the sales agent for Ridgeking, and, in recent years, they have coordinated efforts with Applewood Orchards, Curtis said.
Now combined, the new partners operate about 1,500 acres of apples and also market apples for more than 75 Michigan apple growers. The new company will be better able to serve larger customers and is looking to expand into new markets, Curtis said.
“The formation of All Fresh GPS will give us the fruit, facilities, equipment, and distribution capabilities to serve the needs of larger retailers that were beyond the individual reach of Applewood and Michigan Fresh,” Curtis said in a company press release.
“As a larger organization, All Fresh GPS will also be better able to serve growers through better utilization of their fruit, use of enhanced technology, and expanded distribution networks.”
In the last four years, Michigan has had two big crops and two small crops, making it difficult to serve customers uniformly every year, Curtis said. But as growers continue to move into fresh-market varieties, they are working hard to even out production.
“Michigan growers are making a pretty good effort,” Curtis said. “There’s a substantial number of wind machines now, and more are going in every year. We saw five new ones here in Belding this year. As they plant new varieties, they have a lot invested in trees, and they need to have fruit on them every year.”
Michigan’s 2008 and 2010 crops were reduced to about 15 million bushels by late spring freezes. Crops in 2009 and 2011 were in the 25-million-bushel range.
By combining their efforts, All Fresh GPS will tap into apple production around Belding and Fruit Ridge, Michigan’s largest production area, and from northwestern Michigan up to Traverse City, and in eastern Michigan, Curtis said. That should reduce some of the weather risk.
Both Ridgeking and Applewood Orchards own controlled-atmosphere storage and modern packing facilities, Curtis said. In addition to sizers and color sorters, Applewood can sort for internal and external defects as well. The plan is to market apples for the full year.