Apple suppliers team up


Last season, BelleHarvest packed about 970,000 cartons of apples, and Michigan Fresh packed approximately 800,000 cartons of apples. Courtesy Michigan Fresh Marketing/BelleHarvest

Local apple suppliers are looking to increase their sales through partnerships.

In June, Michigan Fresh Marketing in Comstock Park and BelleHarvest in Belding created a strategic sales alliance, making it the second-largest apple shipper in Michigan for the 2019 apple season, which begins in late August.

The newly joint sales alliance will sell and market as one unified sales organization. In addition to becoming a sales organization, Sparta-based Elite Apple will contribute to its volume for the 2019 apple season.

Elite Apple has committed 500,000 cartons of apples to BelleHarvest and Michigan Fresh, which is estimated to be half of its projected 2019 volume.

“After having more than doubled our packing capacity, we’ve decided to add Michigan Fresh and BelleHarvest to our sales group,” said Rich Kent, Elite Apple partner.

Last season, BelleHarvest packed about 970,000 cartons of apples, and Michigan Fresh packed about 800,000 cartons of apples, according to Angela Sommers, marketing director for BelleHarvest, who added last year was a smaller crop in Michigan.

The joint sales alliance represents about 150 growers in Michigan and Wisconsin. It is expected to sell over 3 million cartons of apples this upcoming season. 

The growth potential these two organizations bring to the market is exponential,” Michigan Fresh CEO Joe D’Ottavio said. “We have an experienced sales team, diverse varieties and the ability to pack orders quickly and efficiently.”

Elite Apple recently added a second packing line to its facility. Along with the contractual 500,000 cartons to be provided by Elite this upcoming season, BelleHarvest and Michigan Fresh now cover eight packing facilities in Michigan and Wisconsin.

“In order to keep up with retail consolidation and industry changes, this allows us the versatility to pursue larger programs for sustained periods of time,” Elite partner Ken Hubert said.

Although BelleHarvest and Michigan Fresh are teaming up, Sommers said each company will maintain its brand.

“The consumers that BelleHarvest worked with in the past, they can expect to still see the BelleHarvest brand,” she said. “Likewise, Michigan Fresh consumers can expect to see the Michigan Fresh brand.”

The joint sales alliance between BelleHarvest and Michigan Fresh is one of the latest sales-related changes in the West Michigan apple industry.

The largest supplier of Michigan apples, Riveridge Produce Marketing, acquired the sales operation of Jack Brown Produce in Sparta earlier this year. The acquisition resulted in Riveridge increasing its volume to 50% of the state’s apple crop. Half of its apples will be marketed to retailers.

According to the Michigan Apple Committee, Michigan was the third-largest apple producer in the U.S. in 2018.

The state harvests about 25.2 million bushels or 1.058 billion pounds per year and about 50% are sold ready to eat. There were 11.3 million apple trees that covered 35,500 acres on 825 family-run farms in 2018.

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