Ontario apples are continuing to see a strong year--a welcome change from the last two years where smaller crops followed challenging weather conditions. “This year overall we had a bumper crop. Not only was it larger in yield but it was larger in size and had great color. All regions had a great year this year inside Ontario,” says Ken Lyons of the Blue Mountain Fruit Company in Thornbury, Ontario.
This is continuing to help the availability of Ontario apples extend longer and longer. “It depends on the variety. Some older varieties are pretty much done in January and February and then, based on the inventory, you’ll start others finish off in late spring,” says Lyons.
Blue Mountain Fruit is seeing a particularly strong year in its Red Prince apple variety. Through grower agreements, production has expanded into Quebec and the Maritimes and this year those orchards began coming into fruition. “So our production was up a little over 30 percent,” says Lyons. “We continue to plant every year and we’ve expanded even in Ontario the number of growers that are now growing under Red Prince license.”
Committing more to local
This came at a fortuitous time. This year, retailers have shown greater commitment to local apples. “They’re trying to stay as local as possible given the fact that the U.S. supply was down this year and the size of apples out of Washington was smaller. Retailers came to us on Red Prince and asked about participating on a much bigger level. On our grab-and-go bins, we have never sold as many grab-and-go bins as we have this year,” says Lyons.
In fact, he notes that generally there are some shifts within apple demand. Consumers continue to move away from older traditional varieties which are lower priced and instead are gravitating to mid-level varieties. “There’s a tremendous growth behind Ambrosia and Gala apples for example,” says Lyons.
The state of the economy does help too. “Apples are one of the go-tos as a relatively inexpensive alternative food. With the increase in inflation, we’ve done really well to sustain the historical tonnage. While higher-end products in the center of the store are seeing massive declines, we’re holding steady from a tonnage standpoint,” he says.
As for pricing, it’s consistent and Lyons notes that the growers and retailers have done a good job to manage and absorb the increased costs. “Most of the packers and growers have found creative ways to increase their efficiency through technology,” he says. “We just spent millions of dollars on a state-of-the-art packing facility that maximizes the availability of labor that isn’t out there. It’s all automated and helps increase the quality so there’s a better yield going to the stores,” he says.
For more information:
Blue Mountain Fruit Company
Tel: +1 (905) 330-9113