As retailers anticipate the peak of the apple seasons, they should remember that when promoted properly, these popular commodities can drive seasonal sales.

According to Nielsen data, apple sales were $3.77 billion last year, which was down 2.8% from 2017.

But apples remain the No. 1-selling fruit commodity in dollars. Honeycrisp has continued to flourish and now accounts for the most sales of any variety, while most of the other key varieties like gala, red delicious, fuji and granny smith all declined in sales.

Brianna Shales, communications manager for Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Washington, says chill is fortunately a non-issue in Washington State and is certainly adequate this year.

"Spring started late, which will likely push bloom off, but it's all assumptions at this point," she says. "The 2018-19 apple crop was down in volume as a state, and we expect a bigger crop in 2019-20, as long as Mother Nature cooperates."

Washington saw one of the longer and harder winters it's had on record, says Andy Tudor, vice president of business development for Rainier Fruit Co., Yakima, Washington, which he says will delay the harvest window maybe seven to 10 days.

Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for Sage Fruit Co., Yakima, Washington, says beginning late spring, and into the summer, the company will have its Southern Hemisphere Breeze and Cheekie apples available.

"New crop 2019 will also bring with it the industry-wide launch of Cosmic Crisp apples," he says. "Several Sage Fruit growers will be among those that harvest this new variety in 2019. Additionally, we will have an increased volume of Smitten and Pazazz apples available for the 2019-2020 apple season."

Sage Fruit Co. also is working on a redesign of its 3 lb pouch bag, which will make its debut this summer.

New York saw a typical winter for its apple production this season, says Cynthia Haskins, president of the Fishers-based New York Apple Association.

"Temperatures and snow fall averages across the state were on par with state averages, which can include up to 100 inches of snow in a season in Western and Upstate New York and slightly less in other regions of the state," she says.

Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., Summerland, British Columbia, says the company projects about 10,000 bins of its Arctic apples from the 2019 harvest, roughly split 50/50 between two varieties: Arctic granny and Arctic golden.

"We currently have close to 600 acres of Arctic apple trees in the ground now and we anticipate that number will increase to more than 2,000 acres by the end of 2020," he says.


Specialty varieties gain market share  

Mac Riggan, director of marketing for Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan, Washington, says the company plans to have promotable, year-round volumes of granny smith and honeycrisp apples this season.

Chelan Fresh also has featured the Koru apple from New Zealand the past two years and looks to promote it in 2019 as well.

“It's a combo Fuji and braeburn apple with a red finish," Riggan says. "It's a firm, hard apple with a unique flavor that stores well."

Though it's also not brand-new this year, Stemilt will have a bigger crop of its signature Rave apple coming to stores in early August, says Shales.

"This apple has honeycrisp parentage but ripens and harvests three weeks before any apple in Washington State," she adds.

New York will offer retailers two popular managed varieties, SnapDragon and RubyFrost, says Haskins of the New York Apple Association.

"Both varieties were developed by Cornell University and are grown exclusively in New York state by Crunch Time Apple Growers," she adds.

As for packaging, the New York Apple Association is debuting new, eye-catching bags that showcase the new "Apples From New York" logo.

Carter of Okanagan Specialty Fruits says the company also is excited to show off its new packaging with a fresh, updated look.

"Our Arctic apple fresh slices come in convenient, 10 oz grab-and-go bags and our Arctic ApBitz dried apple snacks are available in 1 oz and 3 oz options," he says.

Honeycrisp apple supplies have grown significantly across the industry, and their seasonality has lengthened, says Shales of Stemilt.  

"There are many club apples on the scene that continue to grow in volume," she adds. "Red delicious continues to decline as apples like honeycrisp, Fuji, gala and granny smith have become the mainstays in apples now."

Sinks of Sage Fruit Co. agrees, saying honeycrisp is always at the top of the list as a consumer favorite.

"But this year, we saw an increase in demand for proprietary varieties of apples, such as the Smitten too," he says. "Consumers are looking to newer apple varieties that offer a broader flavor profile than what we have traditionally found at the grocery store."

Also, the demand for organic fresh produce has remained strong, Sinks says.

"Therefore, we have made investments to expand our organic program," he says. "Not only are we planting new acreage of organic orchards, but we are actively transitioning our conventional orchards."

To keep its retail customers current on the latest apple trends, Tudor of Rainier Fruit Co. says the company uses data, including from Nielsen, to inform which apples should earn spots on their shelves to bring maximum dollars back to the category.


Marketing musts

When it comes to promoting apples, Shales of Stemilt recommends always featuring multiple varieties on-ad and doing so frequently.

"Organics need multi-variety ads at least monthly," she says. "Conventional can be twice a month during the peak apple months."

Additionally, Shales says it's very important that retailers don't single out an apple, like honeycrisp, on promotion.

"It slows movement for other varieties and hurts the category as a whole," she adds.

Creating an apple destination within the produce department is the best way to promote apples at the grocery store, says Sinks of Sage Fruit Co.

"Allow consumers to see their options, but also provide them with information, like how to select and store, flavor profile, where they're grown and how best to use them," he says.

Sinks adds that unrefrigerated apples begin to show moisture loss and can be less appealing to consumers. "By keeping them refrigerated, they stay crisp and juicy," he says.

Also, when a shopper is given too many choices, they often don't make one at all.

"Therefore, there should be a limit on the number of apples being merchandised at any given time," Sinks says. "However, varieties can also be rotated throughout the year to effectively give the consumer more options, but not all at once."

The display should also consist of different flavor profiles to hit the various tastes of the consumers — sweet, tart and in between, he says.

As for cross-merchandising apples, Sinks says adding caramel or ingredients for pies is great.

"But, for a healthier take, perhaps try merchandising with steal-cut oats for a breakfast idea, or with other items in the produce department for a flavorful salad," he says.

In-store display contests work well when trying to boost volume in apple sales too, Sinks says.

"The large, colorful displays catch the attention of consumers," he adds.

For example, Riggan of Chelan Fresh Marketing says the company has worked with the Fuel Up to Play 60 program for the past eight years to increase student access to nutritious foods in schools.

In April, as part of this promotion, Chelan teamed with military commissaries to sponsor a display contest focused on military moms. Participants were encouraged to create large, colorful displays featuring the Fuel Up to Play 60 logo.

Additional promotional options are available from the New York Apple Association, which plans to offer new demonstration collateral this year featuring new recipes and how-to videos, Haskins says.

"We are also proud to be offering a new retail dietician kit containing great information about the nutritional value of New York apples," she adds.