HARRISBURG — If you think the price of gas is high, check out a gallon of apple cider.
Local supermarkets are selling the seasonal drink for as much as $5.99 a gallon, up $1 or $2 over last year. Other stores like Target are selling half-gallons for $3.99.
Compare those apples to say a gallon of milk, box of cereal or 5-pound sack of potatoes. Apple cider is like the caviar of the produce department.
The reason for the price spikes has to do with the unusually warm spring weather that sent fruit trees into early bloom followed by a frost that zapped tree buds.
In some prime apple growing parts of the country, orchard owners lost a big bite out of their crops. About 90 percent of the apple crop in Michigan was hit and about 50 percent was wiped out in New York.
Luckily, Pennsylvania's apple crop — with the exception to the northern part of the state where some apple orchards experienced frost damage — looks great, said Karin Rodriguez, executive director of the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program.
In fact, this year's apple production in Pennsylvania is up over last year. It's estimated the state will produce about 11 million bushels this year, Rodriguez said.
Still, it doesn't erase the fact that there remains a huge apple shortage on the East Coast. Demand is now sending apple prices soaring, but not enough to stop shoppers from their purchases.
"When the prices go up we're always concerned it may be a little bit too much for customers and they'll stop purchasing cider and cider sales will go down," said Dennis Curtin, spokesman for Weis Markets. "But that's not the case. It's early in the season."
He said Weis is selling cider for $5.99 a gallon and the chain is actually absorbing some of the cost increase so it's not passed on to shoppers. Curtin couldn't say whether prices would slide downward or Weis would offer any sales.
"Sometimes when the market is impacted by a weather event or some other issue, it will cause prices to spike so high customers decide not to buy, and as result nobody is buying," he said. "Sometimes this has the effect of bringing prices down. It's something to keep an eye on."
Workers at Strites Orchard in Lower Swatara Township press their own cider using apples picked in the orchard. The prices are slightly less than the supermarkets at $2.99 a half-gallon and $4.49 a gallon. "We have plenty of apples," owner Matt Strite said. "It's not hurting us. Compared to last year we have a nice crop. Very clean."
He said apple producing companies, such as Mott's and Knouse Foods, are looking for apples this year and they're willing to pay the price, as much as $8 a bushel. But, Strites prefers to keep about 95 percent of its apples for its market, he said.
"Supply and demand dictates the price will be higher so the growers are getting a higher return so that's good for them," Rodriguez said.