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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Ships 'Lower-Grade' Fruit

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Agriculture Department has announced that American exporters can now ship lower-grade apples and pears to Eastern Russia in a move to cash in a on growing Russian appetite for fresh fruits.

Industry officials said the action could double U.S. apple sales to Russia and triple or even quadruple pear shipments.

The new rules apply only to Pacific ports in Russia, where in the past few years U.S. produce has become a sought-after product among local consumers, but where income for relative luxuries like imported fresh fruit is limited.

"These changes are designed to develop Eastern Russia as an export market for apples and pears," the department said in an announcement in the Federal Register. "This change will increase sales opportunities in a market willing to accept pears and apples that are lower in overall quality and less uniform in appearance than most export markets will accept," the announcement said.

Officials sought to emphasize that while the fruit is not as pleasing to the eye as higher grades, it is not inferior in any other way.

Officials said the lower grade -- and lower priced -- fruit, usually used to make juice in the United States, is well suited for cash-strapped Russian consumers.

"In Russia, with its economic conditions, there is a great demand for fresh fruit, but at a price that can be more readily absorbed by its consumers," said Kraig Naasz, vice president of the Northwest Horticultural Council, the group that sought the rule change.

Lower grade apples and pears sell at prices 10 percent to 50 percent lower than higher grade produce.

Under the new rules, exporters can sell so-called utility grade and hail grade apples to importers in Eastern Russia, and grade 2 pears that may be more misshapen or have more physical flaws. The department first changed the rules last fall on an interim basis, and officials said the lower grade products have been readily accepted by Russian consumers.