Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Nielsen Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill., gave a presentation on retail trends at the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association’s Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference in Chicago Aug. 16.
Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Nielsen Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill., gave a presentation on retail trends at the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association’s Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference in Chicago Aug. 16.

CHICAGO — Despite rising prices, consumers bought more apples last season. But they will have stiff competition at the beginning of the 2012-13 season from other fruits shipping in much more promotable volumes.

Those were among the highlights of a presentation by Steve Lutz, executive vice president of the Nielsen Perishables Group, West Dundee, Ill., at the Vienna, Va.-based U.S. Apple Association’s Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference Aug. 16.

Lutz said consumers today are hyper-conscious of higher food prices and looking for relief. Since 2009, the number of consumers using coupons, comparative shopping and sticking to shopping lists is up.

Apples, like most produce commodities, have seen the effects of price inflation. Apple sales per store rose almost 6% last year. But unlike most other produce commodities, volumes did not decline. Volume growth of apples was less than 1%, but it was still in the “positive” category, Lutz said.

“There aren’t many produce categories that can make that claim,” Lutz said.

Once again, the star performer in the apple category in 2011-12 was the honeycrisp, Lutz said. Volumes were up a staggering 37% over the previous season.

Part of that had to do with very aggressive promotions, Lutz said. Because of rising prices, most apple varieties saw disproportionately large increases in their promotion prices in 2011-12.

But the average promotion price of honeycrisps last season actually fell by 15% over the previous year, driving extremely brisk traffic, Lutz said.

Heading into the new crop, apple shippers will have to fight hard to make sure their product gets promotion space at retail, Lutz said. Big grape and pear crops give those categories a big advantage when it comes to getting retailers’ attention.

“If I’m a pear grower, I’m rubbing my hands,” Lutz said. “And the grape guys will be trying to steal your promotions. Don’t lose October.”

Among other retail trends apple marketers will be wise to keep an eye on in coming years is the rise of dollar stores, drugstores and other unconventional produce marketing channels, Lutz said. In the past six years, for instance, 4,500 new dollar stores have opened in the U.S.

Those non-traditional channels, Lutz said, increasingly have fresh produce in their sights for future growth.