Attention to a few key principles leads to successful New York apple sales.
Originally printed in the September 2023 issue of Produce Business.
New York grows some of the best-tasting apples with an increasingly diverse variety, and shoppers know they’ll find good eating when they buy them.
“We have a consumer following for New York apples because of the big flavor New York delivers,” says Cynthia Haskins, president and chief executive of New York Apple Association (NYAA) in Fishers, NY — and The Big Flavor is NYAA’s latest campaign.
“We have some of the richest soil in the country, coupled with warm summer days and cool fall nights, bringing out the best quality in our apples.”
Apple production in New York is forecast at 28,000 million bushels this year, according to Haskins. “We have a diverse crop with promotable volume,” she says.
The rich diversity of climate and geographic conditions in New York play a crucial role in producing an array of apple varieties.
“Thanks to the presence of different microclimates across various regions within the state, a wide range of apples can be cultivated, each offering its own distinct flavor and texture,” says Marcus Albinder, operations manager at Hudson River Fruit Distributors in Milton, NY.
“Consumers want the balance of classic apples they have come to love and newer NY-grown apple varieties to add as new favorites.”— Cynthia Haskins, New York Apple Association
And the state’s growers possess a progressive attitude. “We’re always keeping our eyes open for new opportunities and learning all the time,” says Darren Roberts, partner in Circle R Fruit Farms in Waterport, NY. “We’re exploring what more we can do to improve our orchards and our crops.”
Focusing on some core areas allows retailers to capitalize on New York apples’ advantages.
Merchandising a cross-section of classic apples and newer varieties is the sweet spot, according to Haskins.
“Consumers want the balance of classic apples they have come to love and newer New York-grown apple varieties to add as new favorites,” she says.
Newer varieties include SnapDragon; RubyFrost; and New York-grown: SweeTango, EverCrisp and WildTwist. Some of the classic apple varieties include McIntosh, Gala, Honeycrisp, Cortland, Macoun, Jonagold, Red Delicious, Crispin, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Cameo, Rome, Braeburn and Empire.
Yes! Apples in Glenmont, NY, markets Fuji and Honeycrisp, newcomers such as Rave and EverCrisp, and New York exclusives including SnapDragon and RubyFrost.
“More and more retailers are sinking their teeth into SweeTango and SnapDragon,” says Tenley Fitzgerald, vice president of marketing. “And, EverCrisp has gotten a great start as a new proprietary variety.”
Albinder looks forward to promoting EverCrisp. “A mix between Honeycrisp and Fuji, it’s super sweet and crisp nature has been steadily gaining popularity among apple enthusiasts,” he says.
Empire and McIntosh are becoming varieties that still work regionally, but are losing ground outside the Northeast, according to Tim Mansfield, director of sales and marketing at Sun Orchard Fruit Company in Burt, NY.
“We see growing demand for newer varieties such as Pazazz,” he says.
Tops Markets in Buffalo, NY, with 145 stores, heavily promotes SnapDragon, RubyFrost and EverCrisp varieties out of New York. “We downplay the legacy varieties such as Empire, Red Delicious and Macs in bulk,” says Justin Rowe, category business manager. “We still offer them in bag promotions, however, we reserve the bulk segment for the more expensive proprietary varieties.”
Western New York growers have found a strain of Pink Lady that harvests with exceptional color, according to Brett Baker, president and shareholder of United Apple Sales in Lyndonville, NY. “It’s 85% of full color,” he says. “It harvests within our harvest window and is an exceptional apple. We’re excited to offer this to our retailers.”
KNOW YOUR TIMING
Understanding varietal timing helps retailers plan a successful season. “By mid-August we should have promotable volume,” says Bernie Heberle, partner at Circle R. “In August, stores can look to Honeycrisp and early Gala. In September, we see Fuji, with great flavor and high demand. Then, we’re into SnapDragon and also Empire. Pink Lady comes on strong in November.”
Each variety harvests in a different window, explains Baker. “If you’re going to do a varietal promotion, it needs to be calculated and timed,” he says. “It’s not about being first to market, it’s about being to market with the best quality. Even two more days on the tree can make a huge difference in flavor and what that apple delivers to the consumer.”
Rowe agrees with the importance of knowing the best time to promote each variety. “Our vendor partners are great about letting us know what varieties will be coming off the trees as the season progresses through the early few weeks,” he says. “It’s important to know what varieties you can push and which ones you have to wait on.”
Once SnapDragon sells out for the season, Jessica Wells, executive director of Crunch Time Apple Growers in Lockport, NY, recommends RubyFrost as the perfect apple to fill the shelf space.
“Having RubyFrost on the shelves in the winter months into spring makes a lot of sense,” she says. “It is a great apple for eating fresh, but is also great for winter cooking and baking recipes.”
PROFIT FROM PROMOTION
The New York Apple Association is gearing up the season with a strong marketing and merchandising program. “Our marketing program includes content for NYAA’s retail partners’ newsletters, blogs, in-store signage, sampling program and eye-catching packaging that stands out in the produce department,” says Haskins.
NYAA created high-graphic poly totes, poly bags and pouches designed for consumers wanting convenient grab-and-go purchases, she adds.
Geo-targeting partnerships will continue to play a substantial role as NYAA rolls out The Big Flavor campaign. “NYAA has a large library of content and images used when targeting specific markets where our apples are shipped,” says Haskins.
Stores can piggyback on promotions already in process. “Take advantage of NYAA’s promotional offerings,” says Mansfield. “Display size is key and, combined with ad pricing and good quality, leads to successful promotion.”
Last year, Crunch Time Apple Growers launched a multi-year partnership with the Buffalo Bills to make SnapDragon the official team apple.
“This has gone a long way to increase consumption in the Buffalo area, with sales up 60% in that region,” says Wells. “We like to find new places to meet consumers and introduce them to our apples — our distribution of RubyFrost at Cycle the Erie is another example. We focus efforts in areas where the apples are available, so we have the opportunity to refer folks to a specific retailer where they can find them.”
Fitzgerald of Yes! Apples encourages more retailers to include apples in shopper marketing programs. “Though produce brands don’t have as deep a pocket as our CPG friends, we still want to get in front of the customer,” she says. “Highlighting your fresh assortment is a great way to feature where consumers are most interested in shopping.”
Tops utilizes electronic coupons to promote bagged apples. “It’s a great way to put a nice price point out for customers,” says Rowe. “We have been seeing a lot more traction with these types of promotions over the last couple of years.”
Crunch Time offers retailers a plethora of store-specific promotional options, including displays, various packaging options, local advertising, online promotion and in-store promotions and events.
As a part of Crunch Time and the NYAA, United Apple Sales connects customers to take advantage of available funds and tools. “In midsummer, we meet with our customers to find out what we can do,” says Baker. “Does the retailer prefer coupons, e-coupons, cookbooks — we work backward from what each retailer wants and knows moves the needle.”
Wells suggests the heaviest promotions should happen after the conventional apple season. “We’ve trained consumers to know fall is apple season,” she says. “What they don’t always know is that great, local apples are available almost all year long.
“Retailers should promote more in January through March when apples are still of phenomenal quality, but maybe not top of mind for consumers.”
Highlighting NY-grown has a myriad of benefits. “Local is a powerful word in food retail,” says Tops’ Rowe. “There is something about the hyper-local, New York farm-fresh feeling in the fall. Every area knows when the local orchard gets going. Those customers love to see their local orchard’s products on our shelves.”
An efficient marketing and merchandising strategy plays a pivotal role in efforts to increase sales and promote locally sourced products.
“We have achieved significant success by emphasizing the freshness and local origin of our apples,” says Albinder of Hudson River Fruit. “Utilizing high-impact signage and displays that convey messages such as ‘Eat Local’ or ‘Farm Fresh’ in high-traffic areas within the store proves to be the most effective approach to reach consumers.”
In-store sampling also provides an opportunity to introduce shoppers to new product varieties, Albinder adds.
Studies show consumers increasingly correlate local and organic as similar or even the same, notes Kimberly Kuusela, local merchandising specialist at Hannaford Supermarkets in Scarborough, ME, operating 186 stores.
“Consumers view local as better for them, the environment and their community,” she says. “Seeking and promoting local along with where it is grown is a must.”
United Apple Sales’ Baker says customers report local outsells organic and price every time. “For us to be able to advertise local is always a mover, and regional counts as well,” he says. “We sell a lot into the Southeast and our slogan, ‘Because local matters’, works there, too.”
The local nature of New York apples also means flavor, freshness and sustainability benefits. “Within 10 or 15 days before an apple matures is when it picks up the most brix,” says Herberle of Circle R. “We get optimal maturity because we’re close to markets, giving us an advantage in getting maximum flavor to customers.”
Fitzgerald explains close proximity to East Coast retailers means they can deliver fresh apples within a 24-hour ordering period. “And, as the global community aims to tamp emissions and reduce its carbon footprint, reducing food miles is a way for our retailers and their customers to make an impact,” she says.
TALK TO CONSUMERS
Providing insight about apples direct to consumers enhances marketing. “Establishing an active social channel emphasizing the product’s freshness, nutritional benefits, and distinct varieties proves to be an effective strategy in promoting different product lines,” says Albinder. “This approach enables retailers to engage with their audience and showcase the unique aspects of each product, thereby strengthening the bond between shoppers and the brand.”
NYAA is launching a series of The Big Flavor trade and consumer ads that will include print and digital. “Using the power of social media, the association is setting out to inform shoppers about different apple varieties, when they are harvested and all about The Big Flavor,” says Haskins.