March 17, 2012 marked the 75th Anniversary of the Washington Apple Commission. On March 17, 1937, Washington State Governor Clarence D. Martin signed into law an act establishing the “Washington State Apple Advertising Commission.” But the years leading up to its birth were wrought with uncertainty and the commission would have never been formed if not for a very determined group of growers, shippers and businessmen who tried to keep Washington’s apple industry from going under during some challenging years compounded by the Great Depression.
We are also marking our anniversary with the new commemorative logo shown here, which will be used exclusively for the 2012 crop. It is based on the current Washington Apple logo that has become recognized as a worldwide symbol of quality. The top of the apple represents the commission’s global focus, while the lower part of the apple reflects that more than half of the apples that Washington exports are Red Delicious. This logo will be showcased at major international produce events this season, kicking off in September with the new crop.
Apple advertising was not a new concept in 1937; it had, in fact, been practiced in varying degrees for nearly 15 years prior to the establishment of the commission. The Washington apple industry flourished immediately following WWI, but early in the 1920’s problems started creeping in. Rising production costs and freight charges to the large eastern U.S. cities highlighted the need for many shippers and growers to create an advertising program. Competitive apple growing states were not raising the high quality, well colored apples that Washington was, but they were raising more of them, less expensively. “We have to sell at a higher price to make a profit; we have a better product to sell; we must advertise to build demand to convince the housewife and the trade that our apples are worth more.” This was the reasoning which advanced small-scale advertising programs in the 20’s and 30’s.
First Attempts at Organization
Pacific Northwest Boxed Fruit was formed in 1926 by a group of shippers to conduct a small-scale advertising campaign in the top markets in the country. This led to the formation of the Washington Boxed Apple Bureau in 1928, which was funded by growers on a voluntary basis. They enjoyed moderate success for several years, but by 1934, due in part by the Depression, its income was declining and its future uncertain.
This period marked one of the darkest for Washington’s apple industry. While national apple production was increasing, problems in Washington State were mounting. Worm control made it necessary to apply a continuous costly spray, and then the Food and Drug Administration tightened tolerances on the spray which made ranch packing unfeasible. Instead of merely wiping down the apples in the orchards, they now required a hot bath in expensive washing equipment. This meant central packing, which added to the cost. Plus, the “cooking” of the apples sharply reduced their longevity thus reducing the marketing season. Growers, bankers, businessmen and shippers all became increasingly alarmed; was Washington’s apple industry “on the way out” as all signs seemed to indicate?
Apple Industry in Peril
At the annual meeting of the Yakima District Horticultural Society on January 24, 1936, President Ralph Sundquist declared, “If apple growers of Washington cannot unite on some constructive program of meeting present day sales methods to claim their share of the consumer fresh fruit appetite, the industry must shrink to a fraction of its present size and most of us must quit. This is the challenge, and it’s up to growers and shippers in Yakima and Wenatchee as to whether they meet it!”
A Committee is Formed
It was in this climate that a “Committee of 15” was formed in Wenatchee, headed by James Green and Clyde Merchant. James Green was a Cashmere business owner with orchard interests in the Okanogan valley. Merchant was vice president of the First National Bank of Wenatchee and a non-practicing attorney. The committee was comprised of 5 growers, 5 shippers and 5 businessmen in the north-central apple growing regions of the state. They met once a week for 3 months, the sessions usually lasted from noon until midnight. They interviewed more than 200 people, seeking advice from anyone with an opinion about the industry.
A Plan Emerges
Each member took an oath of secrecy and they insisted on the same secrecy from everyone they interviewed. “Dozens of ideas were advanced – some good, some impractical, some zany,” said Merchant. Advertising and dealer service were the most often mentioned industry need and the only issues where they could get some agreement. Therefore, these provided the best opportunity to get everyone together.
Meanwhile, a “Flash” Delicious promotional drive was put together by Wenatchee and Yakima shippers paid for by a 2¢ per box assessment in an effort to stimulate late 1936 sales. The price of Extra Fancy Delicious went from $1.10 per box to $1.50 per box. Industry leaders jumped on the band wagon and declared a need for a permanent program.
Washington State Apples, Inc.
While Wenatchee’s Committee of 15 was still meeting behind closed doors, Yakima had formed a similar “Committee of 10,” lead by Reuben Benz and B.A. Perham. Members of the two committees eventually met and laid the groundwork for, “Washington State Apples, Inc.” It was to go into operation only after 85% of the state’s total grower tonnage signed on. The plan was to finance the program through a 1¢ per box assessment. Sign-ups moved swiftly and incorporation papers were filed on July 30, 1936. The new organization acted quickly and elected C.M. Zediker of Cashmere as Chairman of the 11-person board and J. Walter Thompson Company as the advertising agency. Washington State Apples set the pattern for the Washington State Apple Commission which was to follow 9 months later.
A Step In the Right Direction.
The program of newspaper and radio advertising moved smoothly through the 1936 season with a budget of $150,000. They also hired in-market service people in New York, Dallas, Chicago and Los Angeles. There were no spectacular price increases but most growers and shippers regarded Washington State Apples as a step in the right direction and were worried it would fade away like other voluntary program in the past. Best assurance against that seemed to be a state law making grower participation mandatory. Legislation was introduced in Olympia in February of 1937. The bill had support of nearly all the apple industry leaders and organizations and sailed through the House virtually unopposed, but nearly foundered in the Senate on a technicality whose amendment had a huge effect of the future course of the Apple Commission – and perhaps the industry.
The Bill Falters… Apple Commission is Formed
Influential Senator Hall from Vancouver (who was also a fruit processor) strongly objected to any sort of advertising, promotion or research on culls and other processing fruits. After a few days of stalemate, the bill was amended to apply only to apples going into “fresh” channels. It then passed quickly and Governor Martin signed into law an act establishing the “Washington State Apple Advertising Commission,” on March 17, 1937, setting up an assessment of 1¢ per box. Governor Martin then appointed the new Commission members (see photo below). The commission actually merged its affairs with Washington State Apples, selecting Zediker as Chairman. Offices were established in Wenatchee and Yakima, with Wenatchee as headquarters because of its central location, which is where it is still located today.
Although considered a “state” agency in that it was authorized by state law, the commission spent only grower money and worked only for the benefit of apple growers. No public tax funds went into the operation.
With a larger income, the advertising program was expanded to include ful pages in Life, Woman’s Home Companion, Good Housekeeping and other magazines; more radio was used in the large Eastern US cities; subway posters in New York and Chicago; billboards across the country and more newspaper advertising. There was also an intense interest in developing a powerful “health” story for apples. Over a period of years the Commission approved more than $50,000 in grants to Dr. Ira Manville at the University of Oregon for research studies on apples.
Magazine ads from Woman’s Home Companion and Life Magazine, 1937
Other Issues Tackled
Almost at once, the Commission took over the ongoing battle with the Food & Drug Administration on the spray residue problem. It persuaded the Public Health Service to send a team to Wenatchee to study the effects of the residue permitted by the FDA. More than 3,500 people were studied and it eventually resulted in liberalizing the tolerances so hot water scalding was no longer required. It also paved the way for a permanent Public Health office in Wenatchee to work specifically with the fruit industry. The WWII development of DDT revolutionized the postwar pest problem, but it was too late to help the hundreds of growers who had already abandoned their orchards a few years earlier.
As the war drew to a close in 1945, the Commission readdressed industry research on fruit maturity, marketing, storage retail handling and packing. In September of 1946, the Commission hired Professor Earl Carlson from Washington State College to organize a full-time research department. Those studies led to bruise reduction practices in the orchard, packing house, and in-transit. He also researched more efficient methods of sorting and handling fruit in the warehouse, conducted the first tests of packing apples in plastic bags, as well as automatic box filling and mechanical packing equipment.
The Honeymoon is Over
During the war years there was no need to advertise due to price controls, so the commission built up a reserve fund of nearly $750,000. But the 1947 growing season was the first big crop (the largest since 1931), paired with big competition. By January 1, 1948, sales came to a stop and there were still record amounts of apples in storage – some said, “The Honeymoon is over”. Shippers and the commission joined together to figure out a plan. They contacted the major food chains to stimulate apple sales promotions. They created a high intensity 90-day newspaper and radio advertising campaign. This biggest-in-history sales push burned up nearly a half million dollars of the reserve fund, but it restored demand for apples and healthy sales returned. They were able to salvage what could have been a disastrous season.
1/2 MILLION DOLLAR AD CAMPAIGN IN 1948
Year-Round Activities Emerge
It was during this season that a year-round food page publicity program began, paired with the commission’s small home economics department which had been maintained since 1942. Another milestone from this season was the meshing of commission promotions with shippers’ sales desks. But the most important change from that season was the development of a larger, year-round merchandising staff (which had been cut back during the war years).
Merchandising staff and food photos from the Commission’s food publicity department.
Although the “Delicious” and Winesap were the most well-know varieties from Washington state in the 1940’s, other popular varieties were: Jonathan, Golden Delicious, Yellow Newton, York, Grimes, Rome, Ben Davis, Transparent, Duchess, Russet, Black Blush and Seeknofurther. In 1948, Washington produced 29 million bushels of apples, making them the #1 producer in the US. The assessment was 2.5¢ per box and those funds also helped support the Northwest Horticultural Association.
By 1951, the Commission had been in operation for 15 years. That year the Commission’s budget was $829,616. Their largest expenditure was for newspaper advertising where they spent $206,139. That year they also spent $105,675 on television and radio advertising. $110,815 was spent on their dealer service staff throughout the U.S.
In the early 1950’s the National Apple Institute (which was organized by the commission in 1938) directed its campaign at the dental and medical profession, dieticians and schools. By 1953, more than 500 copies of dental health films were circulated throughout the country, promoting the apple as “Nature’s Toothbrush” – with the blessing of the American Dental Association.
This was also a time when the commission planned five annual “package promotions” per year: advertising, merchandising and selling. Each promotion was planned with the retail-wholesale trade, six to eight weeks in advance. Two post-war developments – the modern supermarket, and the grouping of retailers into hundreds of corporate and voluntary chains- made this possible. Intense competition resulted in more attention and aggressive promotions. Successful retailers were less interested in price and more interested in the promotion. If there was something good to offer, backed up by good advertising, they would promote Washington apples.
20 Years of Promotions
With the commission commemorating its 20th year in 1957, it had become a vital part of the nation’s marketplace. N.H. Bolstad, produce manager for Von’s Grocery stores in Los Angeles said, “We sincerely believe that the enterprising policies of Washington apple growers have, to a great degree, set the promotional pace for many other segments of the fresh produce industry. Washington apples are in a very enviable position in this market.”
T.S. Melvin, produce director of Public Super Markets in Florida, stated, “Promotion is essential in establishing the prestige and value of a food product today, and Washington apples have been a leader in this respect among fresh fruits and vegetables. The growers of Washington for several years have been reaping a handsome dividend on their investment. The Apple Commission program is a fine one and a very necessary one, if Washington apples are to continue their leadership.”
July 26, 2012 – C.A. (Controlled Atmosphere) Storage
The late Archie Van Doren is known as the Father of C.A. becaue of his work at the Washington State University Tree Fruit Experiment Station. In 1952, Van Doren reported, “new findings on the use of carbon in the air purification of apple storages,” a project he had been working on for many years. By holding the apples in tightly sealed cold rooms from which most of the oxygen had been removed, it was found that the fruit retained its crispness, flavor and juice many weeks longer than in the usual 31-degree cold storage warehouses. By 1955, experimental C.A. systems were set up by the US Department of Agriculture in Wenatchee and by 1957, a three-year study proclaimed apples stored in a controlled atmosphere fared much better than fruits kept in regular cold storage. In May of 1959 a small shipment of C.A. Common Delicious apples hit the price jackpot of $7.86 per box in the Eastern U.S. and convinced the industry that people would be willing to pay top dollar for C.A. apples off-season. Two months later, Peshastin Fruit Growers Association announced the first commercial C.A. project. Early concerns about flooding the market and not giving the consumers a “break” from apples were quickly erased. Production of C.A. facilities increased steadily from there and today, every shipper has a C.A. facility.
Early poster explaining Controlled Atmosphere
Washington was exporting apples almost from the start. In 1930, a record 7 million boxes (or 25% of the crop) was sold to overseas markets. That record held for 48 years until Taiwan opened its doors to Washington apples in 1978. Up until WWII, most exports had been going to Europe and they were not considered a profitable part of the industry. Overseas markets were a safety valve which would accept the small sizes that were unwanted in the U.S. Most of the apple exports were Winesaps. As Europe developed their own fruit-growing industries after WWII, U.S. imports plummeted. In the 1970’s, Washington apples started to be exported to the Pacific Rim, and new opportunities arose in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia and Taiwan.
Grower Support Too
From the 1¢ box assessment in 1937, growers supported each commission recommendation of an assessment increase. In 1955, growers voted by a 3-1 margin to increase the assessment to 4¢ per box. Harold Paton, NCW’s “Grower of the Year” for 1957 said about the impact of the apple commission and advertising, “That’s the way merchandise is sold today – with promotion. An industry like ours has to unite and spend whatever is necessary to do the job.” When asked how much the apple commission’s program has been worth to the grower over the years, he stated, “It would be impossible even to guess. The only way we could come close to finding out would be to do without it for a few years… And that might be terribly expensive!”
End of the Wooden Apple box
The wooden apple box dates back to 1891 when Washington Apples were first field packed and shipped in boxes. Prior to that, they were merely shoveled into straw lined boxcars and sent across the country. In 1897 the “Western Apple Box” was standardized to be 10.5 inches deep, 11.5 inches wide and 18 inches long. Most Eastern growers were still packing apples in bushels, pecks and barrels. By 1910, a measure was brought before Congress to adopt a national standard for apple box size. Box making was an essential trade in the early 1900’s when a skilled box maker could make up to 1,350 boxes per day at a piece rate of 75¢ per 100! Wood boxes were in steady decline after WWII, but 1958 was the year marked as the general industry changeover from the wood box to tray packed apples in cardboard boxes. Initially, the cardboard boxes were plain and simply stamped with the size and variety of apple, then later evolved to shippers printing their “brand” on the boxes, similar to the apple box labels of the past. The advent and adoption of the wood bin happened around the same time and the apple commission was largely responsible for getting the industry to adopt a uniform size bin. This was also considered a milestone in shaping the way apples were handled and packed in both the orchards and warehouses.
End of the Apple Box Labels
The end of the wood apple box meant the end of the apple box label industry, now considered collector’s items by many people. The Washington Apple Commission has a library of more than 750 original apple box labels. To view our whole collection, click here.
Meet the First Trademark
In the spring of 1961, the first official trademarked logo was unveiled to the Washington state apple growers. Proud of the quality apples grown, Washington state growers had for decades been trying to think of ways to better identify their famous product. Although many warehouses marketed their own brands, there seemed to be a need for more continuity across the industry. For years there was idle talk about a trademark: a symbol which could be used in hundreds of ways, year after year, the kind of recognition device which had proven so successful to many American products. Finally, the Apple Commission hired a professional designer to come up with a trademark. Intensive research began, part of which involved interviewing people all around the country and asked them what the name “Washington” implied to them. More than half responded, “apples, ” so designing the trademark around the apple was obvious choice.
By 1961, the commission employed two dozen people across the country to serve as dealer service ambassadors for Washington State apples. Their job was to meet with the buyers and encourage them to purchase extra apples for an upcoming promotion. Or they offered bright, eye-catching display materials to produce managers at supermarkets. They also sent weekly reports back to the commission, telling about the pulse of their market, what the “competition” was doing and giving marketers an idea of what to expect as far as sales there. The commission found that the dealer’s merchandising programs were so successful they remained one of the brightest facets of Washington’s progressive apple industry. The advertising and merchandising program averaged $1 million per year around this time.
Early TV Advertising
Here is the earliest television advertisement we found in our archives – from around 1957.
Promotions with a Personal Touch
In 1964 Charlotte Field served as the apple commission’s food page publicist. She created new and interesting uses for apples, and then got the ideas distributed through newspaper food pages and other media. Joe Brownlow had just started his 21-year term as President of the commission, having already worked for the apple commission for 12 years in the areas of publicity, advertising, merchandising and dealer service management. The assessment was 5¢ per box.
Promotions in the 1960’s
By the midi-60’s, the apple commission coordinated large regional sales and display contests to encourage retailers to build eye-catching apple displays promoting Washington apples. One of these was called “Double Delicious,” which usually ran for a specified month and retailers built their best display featuring both Red & Golden Delicious apples. Then they sent a photo of the display to the apple commission where they were entered into a drawing. Prizes ranged from an Evinrude ski boat, to televisions, radios and watches. The promotions were popular because every retailer, regardless of size, had an equal chance to win a great prize. The largest prize ever was a 1965 Thunderbird. This display contest ran in the spring of 1965 and encouraged retailers to build large apple displays during the spring using CA apples, still a new concept at the time.
Top: Promotional Flyers used in the 1960’s; Bottom: Photo of “Double Delicious” Display from the 1960’s
Promotions in the 1970’s
Larger promotions and aggressive advertising campaigns dominated TV, newspapers, magazines and radio during these years. The Waldorf salad became a new popular meal and posters like the one below showed shoppers the ingredients they needed at the grocery store. “The Savory Spring Salad” magazine insert also featured other recipes using Washington apples in delicious salads, describing them as “tossed, molded or arranged.”
Another TV Commercial
Here’s another early television commercial we found in our archives. This one dates to the 1960’s…enjoy!
Promotions in 1981
The record 1980 apple crop generated $3,798,069 in grower assessments. Consumer advertising topped the operating expenses at $2.4 million for the 1981 season. The biggest investment was in TV advertising. This year’s advertising also included one spot per week by the influential Paul Harvey News radio show. Will Rogers, Jr. concluded six years of work for the Washington apple industry which included television, radio and newspaper ads, as well as serving as a traveling goodwill ambassador during the 1976 centennial year. Other expenditures included trade advertising and promotions, retail display advertising, field staff expenses, direct mail, export promotions and general publicity.
Meet the Next Logo
1984/85 Year in Review
The 1984/85 crop was 70.2 million, still mostly Red and Golden Delicious. 7.9 million boxes were exported.The Washington Apple Commission had full-scale activities happening year-round.Trade Promotions: Field reps held 1,023 promotions in the US, up 35% from the previous year. They had a “Trip to Washington” promotion with 19 retail chains, a “Golden Opportunity” contest with displays, advertising and sampling. Radio Advertising: 2,134 spots ran on 47 stations in beginning in October. Then it expanded to 30 more markets for the holiday shopping season. Television Advertising: TV advertising which reached more than 300 million people. National ads ran for 5 weeks from February through April. Daytime ads best reached the target audience of middle income women. Direct Mail: 3,100 produce executive’s nationwide received information about national promotions, shipments and advertising campaigns. “The Original Health Food” was one of the taglines used.
5-Year Assessment Increase
In 1985, the assessment was 15¢ per box. The Apple Commission unveiled a 5-year plan to increase the assessment to 25¢ by 1990. The proposed assessment program would add 5¢ per box effective in1986; an additional 3¢ in 1988; and 2¢ in 1990.They felt the increases were necessary to help meet the challenges of moving larger crops into the future. The crop was projected to increase from 50 million boxes in 1985 to 65 million by 1990. This proposed plan upped the budget from $7.4 million to $16.1 million. The largest expenditures were for increased advertising (up $5.5 million), $1 million more for promotions, $1 million more in Public and Consumer relations, and the creation of a “market development” program. The Export department increased from $425,000 to a proposed $1.175 million by 1990, due in part to increased Federal grants.
World’s Greatest Granny Contest
A memorable promotion during the 1990’s and early 2000’s was the “World’s Greatest Granny” contest. Each year, the Washington Apple Commission sponsored the contest where they searched the US and Canada for the perfect granny to be the “spokesgranny” for Washington apple growers, “someone who personified the healthful attributes of our apples:”
- Sweet to the core and good moral fiber
- Hand-picked by children, grandchildren, spouses and friends
- Beauty that’s more than skin deep and just the right amount of maturity
20 finalists came to Wenatchee during the apple blossom festival in May and participated in the “Granny Finale”. The winner was featured on promotional posters and made promotional appearances throughout the year.
A 2001 US Supreme Court decision ruled that a Tennessee mushroom grower did not have to pay the Mushroom Council mandatory fees because forcing a grower to pay for promotions that benefitted his competitors infringed upon his constitutional protection of free speech. Within days of the ruling, lawyers were already soliciting apple-industry clients in Washington to take action against the Apple Commission. This prompted the apple commission to take unusual pre-emptive measures.
Rather than risk a hostile plaintiff, the commission arranged for a few growers to sue them first and agreed to pay their legal fees. The strategy was that they would win the lawsuit, thus setting a precedent and affirm their right to collect the fees. However, several organic apple growers, along with 3 large shippers, joined the lawsuit that would end up dragging on until the spring of 2003.
The outcome was something the commission never anticipated: US District Judge Edward Shea in Richland, WA, ruled against the commission, based on the 2001 US Supreme Court mushroom decision, saying it infringed upon grower’s free speech rights.
The 25¢ per box grower assessment fee represented more than 90% of the commission’s budget, about $21.5 million for the 2002/03 year. Upon the ruling, most felt the commission would be shutting their doors for good, thus ending the 66-year commission. The commission’s president, Welcome Sauer, announced his resignation but stated the commission would still exist, but the money could no longer be used for violation of free speech purposes like promotions advertising. The staff was reduced from 51 to less than 10. By May, it was determined the commission could keep funding foreign trade programs, industry organizations and logo protection. These objectives could be achieved by a 3.5¢ assessment, a settlement the growers agreed to, and the Apple Commission has been operating under ever since. The chart below shows the funding breakdown for the 2012/2013 crop year.
Apple Commission Today
Today, our export program funds 13 in-country contractors who coordinate marketing programs in 30 key markets around the world. Our apples are exported to more than 60 countries worldwide. The map below shows everywhere Washington apples are exported.
The Washington Apple Commission is governed by 14 commissioners, each elected to a 3-year term. They represent growers and shippers from 3 districts in the state. The chart below who has served as chairman of the board of commissioners since 1937.
How many people have served as President of the Washington Apple Commission since 1937? The answer is 9. This chart shows all the past presidents and the years they served.