Deep Red Apple Of Consumer's Eye

Monday, October 16th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WINCHESTER, Va. (AP) — A good apple is NOT in the eye of the beholder.

As the Virginia apple harvest comes in, growers often find themselves in a battle to produce the best-looking apple, not necessarily the best- tasting one.

``The Virginia apple industry is growing more of the redder strains,'' said Phil Glaize, owner of Fred Glaize Apples in Winchester. ``They're bred for color. ... In the past 10 years there's been a rush to get the reddest.''

Unfortunately, the best-tasting strains of apples are red, to be sure, but not the very deep red that catches a customer's eye at a grocery store.

Virginia is the nation's sixth-largest apple producer, trailing Washington, New York, Michigan, California and Pennsylvania, said Nancy Israel, executive director of the Virginia Apple Growers Association.

Most of Virginia's apple orchards are in the northern Shenandoah Valley, around Winchester. Glaize said the area is ideal because the climate is cooler, and apples thrive on cold nights.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Virginia will produce about 7 million of the nation's 245 million bushel harvest this year, Israel said. That's down from a big 1999 crop of 8.5 million bushels.

Unfortunately for Virginia growers, other states and other countries also had a bumper crop, and the high supply is keeping prices down.

``The past three years have been rough on the whole ag economy,'' said John Marker, owner of Marker-Miller Orchard in Winchester. ``The world economy affects us so much more.''

While the crop is down, the size of the individual apples is up, and that's good for growers. Only big apples with a good shape and unblemished surface will be accepted for the fresh market. The other apples are destined for processing as juice or pie filling, where they fetch a much lower price.

Glaize rummaged through a bin of reject apples. One had a nearly imperceptible dent, caused by a hail storm; another had no dents at all and was a good size, but it had a slightly lopsided shape.

``That's the difference between a $12 box and a $1.60 box,'' Glaize said. ``The marketplace is very particular. ... The buyers are getting more and more picky.''

On good days, Glaize said half of the apples he packed will go to the fresh market, the rest to processing. On bad days, 90 percent head for the juice bin.

Glaize said it's getting tougher to find supermarket chains willing to buy blander-looking but better-tasting Virginia apples.

``Washington state has far more money to market its product,'' he added. ``We need a pull from the consumer for Virginia apples.''

Marker has built the core of his business around farmers' markets and roadside stands, where he said customers are less likely to judge an apple by its color. That gives him a little more freedom to breed an apple for taste.

``We're probably not held to quite as high a standard,'' he said ``They (farmers' markets) want decent color ... but they trust the person at the farmers' market that it's fresh.''


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