Far from the tree

As apple and pear season kicks off, retailers are boosting promotions and in-store displays to meet demand.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away is old news. According to a Florida State University study, doctors should be recommending a double dose. The researchers found that two apples a day for six months can reduce the artery-blocking LDL cholesterol. This is good news for retailers with apple and pear season at their doorstep.

“Published scientific research tells us that apples and apple products are a great way to add a dose of disease prevention to your daily diet,” says Nancy Foster, president and CEO of the U.S. Apple Association. The U.S. Apple Association’s research suggests that the antioxidants in apples and apple products help reduce the risk of diseases, such as certain cancers and Alzheimer’s Disease. In fact, the Vienna, Va.-based organization’s latest marketing campaign is all about pairing apples with other superfoods to maximize their nutritional benefit—and, of course, sales.

Not a difficult thing to do with the popularity of some of the new apple and pear varieties, say industry observers. Enhanced flavor profiles, an increase in organic production and kid-oriented marketing programs are all in the works, guaranteeing that the season will be a jubilee.

Observers say organic produce continues to grow across the category. “The demand for organic produce is exceeding supply, which is one of our favorite things to happen,” says Addie Probst, import coordinator for CF Fresh. “Last year was steady with no decline. Everyone was getting their footing again after the economic decline and this year it feels like we are positioned to grow again.”

Organic produce is leading the way. If retailers promote organic apples, consumers will buy them, say observers. “Clear labeling makes it easy for consumers to identify organic produce and its origin,” says Probst. “We profile the growers, as well as the various varieties of fruits and vegetables we distribute, for the benefit of retailers and consumers, alike.” The Sedro-Woolley, Wash.-based company imports apples in the off-season from Chile and Argentina, including some popular niche varieties with limited quantities, like Autumn Greetings and Pinova. This helps open up additional channels of distribution by having a year-round supply.

Organic produce’s popularity enticed Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers to enter the organic market. Through a partnership with Columbia Valley Fruit, the Wenatchee, Wash.-based grower will be marketing some top-selling varieties, including Gala, Fuji, Granny Smith, Pink Lady and Honeycrisp, as well as a smaller volume of Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Jonagold, Braeburn and Cameo.

“The real key to success in any packing operation is to put up a high-quality pack with consistency,” says Bruce Turner, national sales representative for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers. “The founding fathers of Columbia Valley Fruit are three lifelong growers whose expertise in organic production began before organic was trendy. The partners built their own plant and consistently produce an industry-recognized, top-quality packout from the first day of packing to the last, every season.

“In Oneonta’s packing operations, the majority of fruit comes from our own farms and we control the entire operation from orchard to packed carton. This new partnership is truly a union of similar philosophies between our companies,” adds Turner.

Apples overall are seeing an increase in demand, not just organic, note growers. The industry is seeing an increased interest in new flavors, such as Columbia Marketing International’s (CMI) exclusive Kanzi variety, and other crossbreeds. “The Kanzi is still in its infancy stages but consumer feedback is outstanding. It is full-flavored and seems to fit the bill for consumers who are bored with traditional varieties—for consumers who want an apple with a lot of snap,” says Bob Mast, vice president of marketing.

The team at Wenatchee, Wash.-based CMI is preparing for an increase in production of its exclusive apple varieties, including Kanzi, Kiku and Ambrosia. With a new packing line at its MacDougal facility, the company will be able to expand production and more efficiently pack multiple varieties. The state-of-the-art technology can better detect external and internal defects and an advanced belt system helps eliminate bruising, says Mast. “We will now have nationwide distribution for Ambrosia, which we weren’t able to do before due to production; and we are introducing new POS materials for Kiku that will build the romance and love story for the apple,” says Mast.

Pears, on the other hand, could use a little bit of marketing help, say observers. They do not receive the attention from retailers that they used to and many consumers are unfamiliar with newer varieties.

The pear category does not receive enough space in the produce department, says Roger Pepperl, marketing director of Stemilt Growers, based in Wenatchee, Wash. “Per square footage, the category is profitable, but there aren’t a lot of pear displays in the stores. Pears are readily available but retailers are not promoting them the way they used to.”

Pepperl attributes this partly to generational changes in the workforce. “I’m a Baby Boomer and I grew up with pears. Some of the younger generations—Gen X and Gen Y—didn’t grow up with pears in their lifestyle and I think it reflects in their work. They have taken their eye off of it.”

The Pear Bureau Northwest, based in Milwaukie, Ore., is working with retailers to tackle this obstacle. The organization’s regional marketing managers helps them create customized multi-variety pear promotions to meet their needs and maximize their store’s potential. “We utilize proprietary in-house data as well as loyalty card data to help strategize what will work best for a given retailer. It’s both art and science,” says Cristie Mather, director of communications. “One new way we see retailers capitalizing on multi-variety displays is by creating mix-and-match displays where shoppers can select several from pear varieties and purchase them at a single price point.”

FUEL UP IS PICKING UP

Chelan Fresh Marketing is expanding on its play to tackle unhealthy eating habits as it launches Fuel Up and Play 60 (FUP60) into retail stores nationwide.

Introduced into a handful of supermarkets last year, such as Winn-Dixie in Florida and Safeway and Albertsons in Washington, the pilot program “showed significant volume increases from 17% to 24% in the markets entered,” says Terry Braithwaite, director of marketing for the Chelan, Wash.-based company.

Started by the NFL as an effort to get kids to exercise for 60 minutes a day and soon joined by the National Dairy Council and Chelan Fresh supporting healthy eating, FUP60 is now in 75,000 schools with 39 million kids enrolled nationwide. Braithwaite says he hopes the strong in-school message will help propel the program’s in-store momentum as they expand nationwide and bring additional produce shippers and commodities into the mix.

“The concept of FUP60 is intriguing,” says Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co. “Empower youth to improve nutrition and physical activity at their school to fight childhood obesity. This kind of message is something we want to be associated with to increase awareness of the importance of a healthy lifestyle and developing habits to last a lifetime.”

As an apple supplier, Rainier will promote their produce in poly bags, mesh bags, display-ready cartons, tote bags and two-sided elliptical pop-ups that tie in with the images and information children receive at participating schools.

“The beauty of this program is its potential to tie multiple departments together to drive sales of nutrient rich foods. It also gives retailers the opportunity to build community relations with local schools, play a part in helping educate parents to make healthy choices for their kids while increasing sales and profits from the produce department,” says Wolter.

POWERFUL PEAR PROMOTIONS

Getting pears into consumers’ carts is one of the biggest challenges of the produce department, agree industry observers. Here are some strategies to boost pear sales during the upcoming season.

“Pears start early. The most successful retailers are placing ads in early September or late August, and then carrying out four or five promotions before the end of the year. Those are retailers are doing really well. Retailers who only put out two or three ads before the end of the year are not amounting to a lot.”
–Roger Pepperl, marketing director, Stemilt Growers

“Sampling is one of the best ways to pique shoppers’ interest in the varieties they may be unfamiliar. Allowing consumers to taste two or three varieties side-by-side is a fun way to show how each pear has its own unique flavor, texture, color and shape.”
–Cristie Mather, director of communications, Pear Bureau Northwest

“I think the best thing retailers can do is work with a pear grower on a pre-ripen program. We pre-condition the pears at the warehouse so they are riper when they arrive at the store. The avocado growers found that when they sold pre-ripened avocados, they moved them four-to-one over unripened.”
–Mac Riggan, vice president of marketing, Chelan Fresh marketing

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