U.S. 'apple capital' reaches out to Chinese consumers through e-commerce platform

Updated 2017-11-08 09:31:57 Xinhua
Workers put granny smith apples into trays on a packing line at a packing house of Auvil Fruit Company in Wenatchee, Washington State, the United States, on Nov. 3, 2017. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

Workers put granny smith apples into trays on a packing line at a packing house of Auvil Fruit Company in Wenatchee, Washington State, the United States, on Nov. 3, 2017. (Xinhua/Wang Ying)

In an apple orchard owned by Auvil Fruit Company in northwestern U.S. city of Wenatchee, a dozen workers were picking the best Granny Smith apples that will reach Chinese consumers in less than three weeks.

Wenatchee, known in the U.S. as the "Apple Capital," might not be a familiar name for the Chinese, but the red delicious, gala, granny smith and many more apple species the city produces have already been very popular among Chinese consumers.

China has become one of Auvil's biggest overseas markets for its apples and cherries in recent years since the company learned about the B2C platform Tmall.

Take the granny smith apples for example, they will be sent to the processing factory for selection, packaging and inspection, before being shipped through ocean freight to importers in China. Importers will then repackage the apples and sell them both online and offline.

"We view China as a huge opportunity for our fruit," said Chris McCarthy, CEO of Auvil.

Partly thanks to Tmall, Auvil now has strong brand recognition in China with the Gee Whiz yellow box varieties, the company' s premium products.

"Chinese consumers value high quality fruit and flavor, which is something we strive to grow and provide," McCarthy said, adding that the company can always accommodate Chinese consumers' needs.

Auvil is a member of Washington Apple Commission which promotes the state's apple products to 25 countries around the world. Every apple Auvil produces has the label of "Washington state apple."

The commission now has 1260 member growers around the state and many packaging and shipping companies. It has been promoting the apples from its member growers through Tmall since November 2013.

The sales volume of Washington state apples on Tmall grew more than 100 percent every year ever since, according to the commission.

During Tmall's Singles' Day sale event in 2015, more than one million gala apples from Washington state were sold in just 24 hours. Thanks to the convenient e-commerce platform, the state's various kinds of apple products have been known to the Chinese market.

"They (our members) are very excited about the opportunities that e-commerce offers to our industry," said Rebecca Lyons, international marketing director of the commission.

She said about two million cartons of apples are shipped to China each year, with each carton weighing approximately 18 kilograms. It accounts for about six percent of the apples produced in Washington state every year.

"China has become one of the top five markets for Washington apples," said Lyons, who added that the commission hopes to expand the Chinese market further in the future.

Auvil has an ambitious plan for China market in the next five years. McCarthy said the company is developing eight varieties at the moment, some of which will be available in China in the next three to five years.

Apart from apples, Auvil's cherry business in China is also booming. The company has seen tremendous increase in its cherry sale volume in recent years, and its rainier cherries are gaining popularity with its rich flavor.

"Cherry is highly seasoned, when our domestic market is saturated with the fruit, the Chinese market becomes critical to divert our huge output," said Bin Zhang, export sales manager of Auvil.

Likewise, Stemilt Growers, another big fruit company in Wenatchee, is also eyeing the Chinese market.

Having exported cherries to China for more than a decade, the company wants to seize the opportunity e-commerce has brought to sell their apples to China as well.

Cherries are one of Chinese consumers' favorite imported fruit on Tmall. Cherry growers from U.S. states of Oregon, Utah, Montana and Idaho have also been selling cherries to China in recent years.

Keith Hu, international program director of Northwest Cherry Growers, said about 10 percent of the cherries produced by growers the commission represents are sold to Chinese consumers.

"China has become the largest overseas market for our cherries," Hu said proudly.

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