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Hudson River Fruit has sights set on successful season

By
John Groh

The quaint hamlet of Milton, in New York’s Hudson River Valley, plays an outsized role in late summer when apple season starts to pick up. Hudson River Fruit Distributors is at the heart of it, as it has been every year since 1963 when it purchased its first orchard here.

Alisha Albinder-Camac, vice president of Hudson River Fruit and a member of the family’s fourth generation, said the company has 450 acres of its own apple orchards, but represents around 10,000 acres of production in total.

“Altogether, we represent 70 growers accounting for 85 percent of the apples grown in the Hudson Valley,” she said.

Managing that volume of fruit requires a commitment to keeping up with a changing business climate, and Albinder-Camac has helped in that regard since joining the company in 2013.

“My first position in the industry was with Fresh Direct, where I was a buyer,” she said. “It was a great foundation for my career, as it was the most technologically advanced produce operation at the time. When I came on board at Hudson River Fruit, the first thing I did was upgrade our ERP (enterprise resource planning) business system because we weren’t tapping into the full functionality of it. I also implemented marketing updates and joined a number of industry boards, which enabled me to build relationships and gain a bigger perspective of the apple industry as a whole.”

She said all of that experience was important to help move the company forward. In the last three years, Albinder-Camac has been more focused on sales and operations, helping to run the day-to-day business.

Regarding this season, Albinder-Camac said, “The crop looks amazing. We have had ample water and perfect temperatures, so the season is setting up nicely with the approach of fall and the uptick in consumer demand. Sizing should be up by one to two sizes, depending on variety, and that is the result of the good supply of water earlier in the growing season.”

Hudson River Fruit markets more than 20 varieties of apples. The newest to the lineup is the Evercrisp, which is entering its second season. Snap Dragon and Ruby Frost are other newer specialty varieties, having been introduced in the last five years. Of all the varieties marketed under the core Red Chief brand, she said Gala and Honeycrisp are the most in demand.

Hudson River Fruit also markets smaller apples under the Lil Chief moniker. Seven varieties are available in two-pound bags under this label, and Albinder-Camac said a rebranding is under way that includes updated graphics.

“Prior to the Lil Chief program, our smaller apples were going to foodservice,” she said. “We realized there was a market for the smaller apples because not everyone likes a large apple, so these were perfect to fill that preference.”

Albinder-Camac said volume from Hudson River Fruit’s own farms will be up this year, while volume of New York apples over all should be level with last year’s production. She added that pricing will be up this year due to tighter supply.

“The high demand last year during the pandemic means we didn’t have an oversupply going into this season, so there is a lack of storage apples this year. This put added pressure on the processing side, which puts even more demand on fresh. While that means higher prices, we are also looking at increased costs across the board, including packaging, inputs, fuel — basically everything.”

She credits the dedication of the company’s workers with helping to persevere through a challenging time.

“Luckily, we haven’t had any problems procuring the labor we need for our business,” she said. We use the H2A program and have a longtime stable crew that returns to us each season. Like others, we’ve had to pay increased wages, and that has added to our costs. But kudos to our team for working hard and enabling us to continue servicing our customers.”

Photo: Alisha Albinder-Camac, vice president and fourth generation family member at Hudson River Fruit Distributors, in a company apple orchard.

 

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