Fall means fresh apples, but those sales can carry through winter.
Originally printed in the October 2022 issue of Produce Business.
Crunching an apple is as American as baseball — apple orchards produce top varieties, and farm teams produce star players. Both have long-standing popularity.
US Apple estimates 255 million bushels of apples will be produced nationwide in 2022, a 2.7% increase compared to 2021. Michigan projects 29.5 million bushels, while New York State expects 32 million bushels.
“This year, both the Midwest and New York have good crops,” says Don Roper, vice president of sales and marketing at Honeybear Marketing in Elgin, MN. “The tonnage out East will complement the shortage in the West.”
Washington State, the top producer, expects 108 million cartons of fresh apples, down from 122 million cartons last year.
“Two varieties are taking a big hit: Galas will have a smaller crop and be two sizes down. Since there will be less big fruit, there will be a premium on the large fruit. With Fujis, it will be the same thing, a lighter crop,” says Roper.
SELLING TIMETABLE FOR 2022
Apples are eaten 52 weeks of the year. New crop apples sell from August through December. The storage crop starts in January, and the import crop begins in April.
“The Lower Hudson Valley has been harvesting their apples since the beginning of August, and will sell through July of next year,” says Alisha Albinder Camac, vice president of sales and marketing at Hudson River Fruit Distributors in Milton, NY.
Washington State’s harvest began in August, but two weeks later than normal because a cold spring delayed bloom and fruit maturity. In Michigan, harvest started in late August.
As the new crop hits stores, consumers snap up fresh Gala, Honeycrisp, Cripps Pink, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Braeburn — and rising stars like SweeTango and Evercrisp. They can enjoy Tastee Apple’s gourmet apples dipped in kettle-cooked caramel or candy and topped with nuts, cookies or pretzels.
“After Labor Day, sales really pick up, and then October is really our strong selling timeframe,” says Chad Hackenbracht, vice president of production for Tastee Apple in Newcomerstown, OH.
During apple harvest, retailers punch up their marketing with tie-ins and graphics.
“We obviously tie in themed items — candied apples and pumpkins — and give it a fall harvest theme,” says John Giery, director of produce and floral merchandising at Saker ShopRites, Inc. in Holmdel, NJ. “We use the New York Apple Association tote bags, that is an effective vehicle for people who want grab and go.”
Point-of-sale exhibits that educate the consumer on usage (pies, sauces) and taste profiles (sweet, tart) can bump up sales. Demos, posters and digital ad banners are effective. Sampling helps customers distinguish between varieties.
“Having a quality experience (when they eat an apple) is key to having customers engage. There are a lot of varieties and a lot are red,” says Chris Ford, business development and marketing manager for Viva Tierra Organic, Inc. in Mount Vernon, WA.
Retail displays can show the relationship between apples, honey and pollination. “The Bees and Trees program is our adopt-an-acre. We have the bins in store, we support them with ads at the retailer for the weekly ad planner. We give the retailer something to excite the customer,” says Roper of Honeybear Marketing.
Marketing strategies need to be adjusted as needed. This year’s smaller fruit size in Washington State means more bagged than bulk promotions. “That helps us get behind our Little Snappers kid-sized fruit,” says Brianna Shales, marketing director of Stemilt Growers LLC in Wenatchee, WA.
The fiber, polyphenols, and antioxidant/anti-inflammatory compounds in apples can also be highlighted. T&G Global works with influencers and dietitians to support healthy eating habits for consumers of Envy apples, and Michigan Apple Committee says in-store pharmacies promote health benefits of fruits and vegetables by giving coupons for free produce.
LOCAL AND ORGANIC PRODUCE
Many consumers, especially the younger generation, prefer locally sourced fruit. “They want that local connection as long as it is of quality and fairly priced. It drives right to the heart of sustainability and getting it right down the street,” says Roper.
The local/regional focus runs from September through December, when apples are fresh picked. Consumers often wish to know the story behind local apples.
“Telling the story of a generational family that runs a local orchard or cidery, explaining the impact of local crops to the overall state’s economy, and how buying locally can reduce carbon emissions by less travel time can help the consumer understand that buying locally is not just a movement, it is necessary to sustain our growers and farmers,” says Diane Smith, executive director of Michigan Apple Committee in Lansing, MI.
Organic apples grow mainly on the West Coast. “Washington State has the ideal climate for growing organic, so most of the organic apples come from here,” says Ford of Viva Tierra Organic.
“A lot of the apples we grow organically are sought after — the Honeycrisp and Cosmic Crisp — so we must make sure we are delivering a good experience to that customer,” says Shales.
IN-STORE DISPLAYS AND ONLINE SALES
To build visual interest at retail stores, produce managers use color breaks, cartons, bins and baskets.
“We merchandise in simple wicker baskets,” says Bill Moschetta, produce manager at Holiday Park Shop & Save in Pittsburgh, PA. “You need two levels of apples in the fall, so we have enough to take care of sales. We do a single level in the summer, it keeps the presentation neat and avoids bruising.”
Large retailers with clean store policies may require specific signs, while small and medium-sized retailers favor bins and semi-permanent displays.
“The latter tend to have more free rein and are open to exploratory type tactics to provide that unexpected style of shopper experience,” says Jen Lessner, shopper marketing for Envy apples at T&G Global in Torrance, CA.
“Building the beautiful displays with more space for the feature varieties you want to drive consumers to, attracts them to the displays and drives impulse buys,” says Shales.
In-store shoppers, who select and go, are driven by point-of-sale materials, while online shoppers have more time to learn more about the fruit. Shales says bagged sells well online because consumers can see the bag and count how many apples are in it. Ford of Viva Tierra Organic says online reaches a broader range of customers, and permits companies to show how/why apples are grown.
BULK VS. BAGGED
Retailers generally display bagged apples in cartons, and bulk apples on refrigerated tables, although refrigeration may be skipped during the quick sales of fall season. Consumers choose bulk or bagged apples depending on price and intended usage.
“Bagged can be merchandised for Halloween, for candied apples. With bulk, in apple pies for baking, they want to use bigger fruit. You can even put apples in turkey as part of the stuffing,” says Camac of Hudson River Fruit Distributors.
While bulk apples are cheaper than bagged, strategic ads can increase sales of both. “A cycle of bulk and bagged apples in ad every other week, rotating the varieties, will encourage the consumer to try new apples and keep the category profitable,” says Smith of Michigan Apple Committee.
In the fall, Holiday Park Shop & Save may reduce its bulk apples price from $1.99 to 99 cents per pound. “That is a big sale and attracts a lot of attention. At our store, I sign, sign and oversign. When something is on sale, it shouts out ‘Red Sale.’ I have signs above and below that spell out what type of apple and include the pricing — pricing is huge,” says Moschetta.
At Saker ShopRites, bins help increase bulk apple sales. “Bagged apples do get a little more exposure, but most of our business comes from our bulk apples. People like to look and touch and select. We will do whatever we can with high graphic grower bins with the apple pictures and such. As you get into this time of year, it is really New York State apples, they are looking for including Red Delicious, Macintosh, Rome, Stayman, Winesap,” says Giery.
Bulk offer retailers more options. “You can have different varieties and sizes, and you can have color breaks. You tend to get a smaller apple in a bag, which is better for back to school,” says Viva Tierra Organic’s Ford.
Apples can be cross-promoted with cider, cheese, wine, boxed mixes and many other items. “We are currently looking at a few new opportunities right now with other fruit brands, nut butters and grains for the coming season,” says Lessner of T&G Global.
Promotions may be based on season. “Fall cider is a nice pairing to get people in the fall mode.
napdragons and cheddar cheese is a good cross mix. A lot of times apples are a nice alternative to grapes or berries,” says Camac.
Honeybear Marketing, which promoted Pazazz and First Kiss, will take advantage of the fall International Fresh Produce Association show to launch Honeymoon. “It is a new yellow apple with tropical flavors and a nutty finish,” says Roper.
With apples, the opportunities for promotion are endless. The fruit is for snacking, baking pies and cakes, making jams and salsas. Any recipe that calls for apples benefits the category.
“I have also seen people bring things together almost like a meal. That would be how you display pork with apples, and make it a one-dish meal for a family, because that is what people are desperate for now, convenience,” says Shales.
In October, apples and caramels rule. Holiday Park Shop & Save sells caramel, salted and chocolate dips; and candy caramel kits for kids. “We get five different flavors: caramel, caramel with nuts, turtle with chocolate and peanuts, Halloween colored jimmies, apple pie. There are various apples that work with that,” says Moschetta.
“We always suggest putting our product with other fall-minded items, in the prominent areas of the produce floor,” says Hackenbracht of Tastee Apple. Its caramel gourmet apples serve six to eight people, and are often an impulse buy.
• • •
Sweet Fruit from Just Down the Road
Freshness and Freight Costs are Major Advantages in Sourcing Eastern Apples
By Bob Johnson
When you look at the total fruit available for consumption in the U.S., apples — juice and fresh combined — are in the No. 1 spot.
Apples held the top spot for total fruit available for consumption in 2019 with loss-adjusted apple juice availability at 1.4 gallons per person, fresh apples at roughly 10 pounds per person, and canned, dried, and frozen apples totaling to 3.3 pounds per person, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Economic Research Service.
Bananas, at 13.4 pounds per person, topped the list of most popular fresh fruits, while orange juice (16.7 pounds or 1.9 gallons) remained America’s favorite juice.
So what does that mean? U.S. shoppers love apples.
Washington, the nation’s leader in apple production for a century, ships a majority of all the apples harvested in the country. Behind the Northwestern leader, at 5 billion pounds a year, New York and Michigan harvest a billion pounds, and California is not far behind.
But consumers up and down the Eastern Seaboard eagerly anticipate the fresh fruit picked from orchards just down the road.
“Our customers look forward to the local apples,” says Chuck Link, director of produce operations at Redner’s Markets, Reading, PA. “They grow a fantastic apple here.”
Mary and Earl Redner started this chain in 1970 with two stores in Reading, and five years later formed an employee stock ownership plan. That plan has enabled current and former employees to own nearly half the company, which now has 64 locations in eastern Pennsylvania, Delaware and Maryland.
Redner’s promotes local apples with signs that include pictures of the farmers who grow them. “We use a lot of local signage and buy from a grower close to our distribution center, so the apples are very fresh,” Link says.
The Pennsylvania harvest that feeds Redner’s customers begins in late August and continues into the fall.
Local demand is strong enough to make Pennsylvania fourth in the country in apple production, according to USDA statistics, trailing only Washington, New York, and Michigan, and barely ahead of California.
Just down the Eastern Seaboard, North Carolina, with one of the most diverse agricultural sectors in the country also makes it into the top 10 in U.S. apple production.
“Galas, Fujis, Granny Smith, and Pink Ladies are some of the leading varieties,” says Michelle Roberts, marketing specialist at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture, Raleigh, NC. “Rome and Red and Golden Delicious are some of the older varieties.”
While most of the harvest runs from the Galas in August until November, there are very early varieties that have a loyal following in North Carolina.
“Some of the growers get off to an early start in June with Lodi and Wolf River apples,” Roberts says. “You pretty much have to live here to know about them. Many of the apples are sold at roadside stands.”
Lodi is a yellow variety widely grown in the Southeast while Wolf River is a red variety from Wisconsin with superior resistance to frost, which can be an issue in North Carolina.
NEW TWISTS FOR AN OLD CATEGORY
Apples were a favorite of the ancient Romans and Greeks, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, and have been eaten for at least 750,000 years. But modern variety preferences for this ancient category continue to change as growers and breeders look for the next big thing.
Red Delicious was the dominant apple for decades until Galas took over the top spot in the last year or two. Honeycrisp climbed the charts to the No. 5 spot in record time after its release in 1991, and many of the trendy newer varieties are crosses that improve this crisp, sweet fruit.
Cosmic Crisp is a proprietary cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp developed at Washington State University and promoted by an unprecedented $10 million publicity campaign financed by the Washington Apple Commission.
“A new release like Cosmic Crisp is so much better than Red Delicious it kills the market,” says Matthew Godfrey, sales, and logistics manager for Crown Orchard, Covesville, VA. “When I was 4, I ate my first hamburger steak. That was the best until someone handed me a ribeye.”
Washington may have the largest research and promotion budget, but Eastern apples also continue to diversify. “In the East, we have Evercrisp, Rubyfruit,, and Snapdragon,” says Myles Chaser, fruit buyer for Four Seasons Produce Co., Ephrata, PA. And many Eastern apple growers are shifting their production toward new Honeycrisp crosses.
“In recent years, we have planted large amounts of varieties like EverCrisp, LudaCrisp, and Rosalee. Additionally, as new strains of popular varieties like Fuji and Honeycrisp come out, we are constantly updating our plantings to grow the strains that possess the most desirable traits in the marketplace,” says Ellie Vranich, assistant business and marketing manager at Hollabaugh Bros., Biglerville, PA.
“On our farm, EverCrisp has risen to one of the most popular varieties. Honeycrisp, Fuji, Pink Lady, and Nittany would round out the top five varieties on our farm.”
Hollabaugh Bros. is a family-owned and operated fruit and vegetable farm operating its own store in Biglerville, PA. It also wholesales a variety of seasonal produce.
“We continue to strategically plant orchards and varieties that are showing promise in the fresh market,” Vranich says. “Here at Hollabaugh Bros. Inc., we are proud to report that we are the only grower in the world with a new variety called FyreFly. Our young trees are just coming into production, but all signs point to a beautiful apple that has an incredibly satisfying crunch with an appealing burst of flavor and juice.”
“There is a lot of promotion by the shippers of new varieties that are easier to farm, more durable and more flavorful,” says Chaser. “The demand is not coming from the consumers, but once the consumers try them, they like them.”
The Pennsylvania-based Four Seasons is a full service produce wholesaler providing a range of conventional and organic fruits, vegetables, meat, and dairy products to a variety of retailers throughout the mid-Atlantic region.
Redner’s has evolved to include the latest varieties alongside apples familiar for generations.
“You can never go wrong with a Honeycrisp,” Link says. “Cameo is catching on and we promoted Pink Ladies and they picked up. But we’re an old-school grocer, so we still carry Red and Yellow Delicious.”
THE EASTERN EDGE
High and rising shipping costs favor Eastern apple growers who harvest closer to the largest population centers.
“Freight from the West is $8 to $14 a case,” Chaser says. “It costs around a dollar or two to truck a case of local apples. The Western fruit is down almost 10% and our demand is steady if not increasing a little.”
Hollabaugh Bros. also enjoys proximity to the large urban centers of the Eastern Seaboard.
“A rather large percentage of the U.S. population lives within just a few hours of apple country in PA, so we possess the unique ability to receive, pack and ship our apples quickly and affordably into stores up and down the East Coast, and most importantly, while they’re at their supreme freshness,” Vranich says.
The weather has cooperated this year in most of the Eastern apple areas, while hailstorms in some orchards during bloom could impact the Washington apple crop, according to Chase.
“We had a bumper crop in 2021. This year’s crop is looking to be more of an average to normal size for us,” Vranich says. “Right now, it looks like we had good pollination and a good fruit set. Regular rainfall is helping things grow nicely.”
Areas south of Pennsylvania look to have avoided frost damage in the 2022 growing season. “We had freeze damage last year and a lot of growers only got 25% of a normal crop,” Roberts says. “It looks great this year; the growers are saying they have a really good crop.”
The weather was also kind to the apples a few miles north in central Virginia this year.
“We’ll have a good crop,” says Crown Orchard’s Godfrey. “A lot of the freeze damage happened to the peaches, but didn’t hurt the apples. It will be a lot better than last year both in volume and quality.”
Crown Orchard has been run for five generations by the Chiles family, who have seven major apple and peach orchards in mountainous central Virginia. It sells locally, but has also developed markets in the South, Midwest, and in Central and South America.
There is strong consumer desire for the fresh fruit from the East. “There’s little demand for fruit that is from Pennsylvania specifically, but we sell a lot of Eastern apples,” Chaser says. “Sampling, passive demos, and turning displays to keep them fresh and full are the best things retailers can do to move apples.”