Northwest seeing uptick in apricot demand
With all Northwest stone fruit items reported as having a good bloom this season, it’s apricots leading the way in demand increase, according to James Michael, vice president of marketing North America for the Washington State Fruit Commission.
Michael said from his Wenatchee office in late May that he anticipates 6,000 tons of apricots from Washington this year, in line with last year’s production. While ‘cots are not the biggest volume stone fruit crop coming out of the Evergreen State, it has shown steady increases in demand, up between 25-30 percent since 2012. In part, Michael said, it could be attributed to varietal transitions, with the Robada, Rival and Perfection apricots doing well with consumers.
Those three varietals also extend the apricot season, with the Robada coming off a bit earlier, the Rival a good mid-season piece of fruit and the Perfection extending the season slightly longer.
The region’s stone fruit orchards benefited from the moisture from last winter, and despite the cooler spring and bloom later than that of 2016, apricots, peaches, nectarines and Italian prunes are all expected to come in with good quality and size. The season starts with apricots in mid- to later June and running through mid-August.
“We expect 8,000 to 9,000 tons each of peaches and nectarines,” Michael said. Nectarines are expected to start mid-July and go through mid-to-late August. Peaches are expected to run from late July into September, and Italian prunes, which have seen more plantings and will start early August, and should ship through September.
Michael said that Washington has carved out a good stone fruit niche, coming in later and extending the consumer’s opportunities to enjoy fresh fruit from retail.
“Our stone fruit orchards grow alongside our vineyards,” he said, explaining the same conditions that produce good wine also produce good tree fruit.
“We see very good quality in a better tasting piece of fruit,” he said. “It’s a later season for retailers, and from the standpoint of fruit appearance, it’s a piece of fruit that looks and tastes good. Fruit with juice rings up better than dried up fruit.”
In addition to the increase in apricot demand being filled by growers, there’s also been an industry move away from some of the white varieties that were produced some years back.
“We’re seeing a transition away from whites and toward organics,” Michael said.
He credits consumers that are younger and more committed to healthy diets with growers’ incentive to change.
“We’re seeing steady demand on the prunes, for instance,” he said. “It’s an incredibly healthy piece of fruit, and it also makes you look smart in the kitchen with its great versatility in meals. Whatever the reason, though, people are picking it up again. They’re going for more natural fare, and we hope to get more people on board with organics.”