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Apple demand returns to pre-COVID levels

Overview of supply of apples in the US market, by Ward Dobbins of United Apple Sales, complemented by charts from Agronometrics.

Original published in on April 30, 2020

Supplies of apples in North America remain solid.

“We had a big crop in the fall as a country—I think we were up about 14 percent so there’s plenty of stock on hand,” says Ward Dobbins, president and owner of United Apple Sales in Lyndonville, NY. “I don’t see any issues with the supplies for the remainder of the season until we get to the new crop.” Dobbins adds that United’s own crop was down slightly from last year, but that movement of its apples are still in line with what was anticipated. “We’ll have good stock for at least another couple of months,” he says.

At the same time, Dobbins says that demand for apples is also consistent with pre-COVID-19 levels. “It’s stayed pretty much the same,” he says. “There were a couple of weeks where people were unsure of the supply and how it was going to pan out, so they bought very heavily for a few weeks. But that’s levelled out and kind of fallen back in line with what we’re used to.”

Volumes (in KG) of apples in the US market during the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

All of that means that while prices overall are somewhat down compared to last year at this time, COVID-19 has not forced a change in pricing and it’s consistent with the season. “Things are very stable in the apple arena and I’m optimistic that we’re going to have a nice, smooth end of the season,” says Dobbins.

Prices (in USD) of Apples in the US market during the 2018, 2019 and 2020 seasons

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

Protective measures

What has changed at United Apple, as it has with many growers and shippers, are the safety measures taken around COVID-19 prevention. For United, these measures have included steps such as socially distancing staff, from the packing line to processing and shipping teams, and equipping them with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as masks. “Part of the challenge in getting masks was trying to figure out what we really need and not ordering more than we really needed so there’s plenty still available to be distributed,” says Dobbins. “We put a reasonable number on it and ordered extras and it was also important that the masks were washable.”

On top of that, the intervals at which work areas within the packing facilities are being wiped down have significantly increased and newly received packaging materials are placed in an air-filtered quality-controlled environment before being put on the production line.

The company also continues to work with touchless processing on bulk/tray and bagged fruit. “We had all of that equipment beforehand,” says Dobbins. “It’s been the direction that the production equipment in our field has been heading towards because apples are so easily damaged. The less handling, the better.”

The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.

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