BRADENTON, Fla., Feb. 4, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- Since deciding to spend their winters in Florida nearly two decades ago, Michigan Apple growers Leo and Pat Rasch have developed a healthy, balanced ritual to start the day.
"Every single morning for breakfast we have a Michigan apple and a Florida orange," said Pat. "We try not to show a preference for either fruit."
But Leo, a fourth-generation apple grower whose family owns about a thousand apple acres in a region north of Grand Rapids, Mich. known as the Fruit Ridge, doesn't hesitate to state his allegiance.
"Michigan apples are better," he said, with a chuckle.
In fact, the 85-year-old Michigan native has already been out this morning to do a routine check on the inventory of Michigan apples in the local grocery stores. He reports the findings to his Michigan apple packer and distributor, Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc. of Sparta.
Over the last several years, Leo and Pat say they have seen an increase in the number of Michigan Apples retailers in the Bradenton area carry. It's an unofficial observation – but one Riveridge co-owner Don Armock substantiates. Riveridge shipped about 364,000 cases of apples to Florida last year.
"Over the last decade, we have really seen the Riveridge apple presence flourish in the Sunshine State," said Armock. "It's great to see, especially when so many of your growers like Leo are snowbirds keeping an eye out for the availability of their produce in other southern states."
Leading retailers in the south say they routinely purchase Michigan Apples, especially in the winter months when closer apple-producing states have depleted resources and residents from the northern states, in particular Michigan, have migrated here. Most of the Michigan Apples in Florida are sold in bags.
"Retailers, especially Publix, really do an exceptional job showcasing our homegrown apples from Michigan," said Leo.
Pat and Leo have many Michigan apple friends in the Florida whom they regularly stay in touch with and visit while in Florida.
Florida remains the top migration choice for outbound Michigan residents. According to the Internal Revenue Service data, an estimated 68,000 Michiganders moved to the Sunshine State between 2000 and 2008.
"With so many Michigan people migrating here, it really makes us proud to see our produce in the grocery stores down here," said Pat. "And it really makes sense for the retailers here to source Michigan-grown produce."
Michigan, the third largest apple-producing state in the nation, grows more apples than any other fruit. Distribution of the apples is primarily east of the Mississippi River, with a substantial amount of the fresh apples sold in Florida, said Denise Donohue, executive director of the Michigan Apple Committee.
"We hear from many of the retailers in Florida that their customers will ask the produce managers for a specific Michigan-grown variety," said Donohue.
When asked what sets Michigan Apples apart, Leo said it's a combination of quality control, taste, variety selection and geography.
Riveridge Produce Marketing, Inc. is a Sparta, Michigan-based company representing produce growers throughout Michigan and North America, including fourth-, fifth- and sixth-generation apple farmers. Riveridge is located in the Michigan fruit belt, "The Ridge," known for its ideal growing conditions for apples.
A full-service fresh apple grower, packer and exporter, Riveridge specializes in bringing unique varieties to market and currently distributes more than 20 varieties throughout the United States as well as globally. Additional product lines include: old-fashioned apple cider, gourmet caramel apples, Michigan sweet cherries and red-tart cherry-juice concentrate. Please visit riveridgeproduce.com.
SOURCE Riveridge Produce Marketing, Inc.