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North Bay Produce relies on relationships with growers

By
Keith Loria

Ken Korson, sales and apple category manager for North Bay Produce, a Traverse City, MI-based cooperative of growers, is charged with managing the apple sheds daily based on what the customers want and what the growers have to pack. 

“I try to stay on the top of the whole apple category from growing to the final sales, which can be a chore at times with six apple packing sheds,” he said. “Each year is different depending on the crop size in each growing area. We are always adjusting each year to determine how well the season goes.”

north bay
Bob Jonaitis is one of North Bay’s
Michigan apple growers.

Over his 13 years at North Bay Produce, Korson has seen the evolution of a number of new varieties and different pack sizes.

“A big part of success with running any category — especially apples — is relationships,” he said. “First of all, the relationships with growers daily is important to build trust with everyone on the growing side. Secondly, building relationships with our customers so they work with you from year to year to sell what you have rather than only what is short in the markets.”

Like many in Michigan, North Bay Produce’s crop size in 2021 came in much smaller than normal because of frost in the spring and a hailstorm that hit a few growers during harvest. That hasn’t dampened the mood for the upcoming season, however.

“There is a huge opportunity with all the new plantings to push up apple consumption throughout the world,” Korson said. “I think with a normal or large crop, we have the opportunity to promote more apples start to finish. This year, although challenging at times due to the smaller crop, we still saw successful apple programs with North Bay’s customers.  With a larger crop, we can be more aggressive right out of the gate.”

The biggest challenge to the apple category for the future is if all the growing regions have a large crop in the same year, which combined with all the new plantings, could cause an oversupply situation in the U.S.

To combat this, Korson noted that it’s necessary to increase consumption through promotions. He expects the apple industry to overcome any challenges and for things to be strong in 2022.

One trend that he’s noticed concerns what he called a “pretty large shift” back to bags or anything packaged.

“This has been increasing since COVID-19 hit the world two years ago,” Korson said. “This trend has leveled off some, but is much stronger on the packed apples compared to bulk apples which are handled more at the store level.”

Now that 2022 is upon us, North Bay Produce is planning for growth, making some behind-the-scenes changes that are expected to keep the company on an upward path of momentum.

“We have been upgrading the packing lines and facilities to stay up with new technologies and innovations,” Korson said. “We are always looking for ways to do things better and reach for more success.”

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