CHICAGO — As far as fresh-cut apple slices have come in a dozen years, Tony Freytag believes the category is still full of potential.

Speaking Aug. 23 to the U.S. Apple Association Marketing Conference, Freytag, marketing director with Cashmere, Wash.-based Crunch Pak, provided an overview of the category’s growth and his optimism about future growth.

While there is no data recorded on fresh sliced apple sales to foodservice, Freytag said industry estimates project combined retail and foodservice sales now account close to $475 million annually.

“There is about a half a billion in sliced apple sales that didn’t exist 10 years ago, so for me it is extremely satisfying to give that outlet to growers,” he said. Gala, pink lady and granny smith are the primary varieties used for fresh apple slices.

Freytag said the category has room to grow.

Crunch Pak recently took a survey of more than 400 women from 18 years to 60 years old, and Freytag said the survey found that 69% of the women between 18 and 60 don’t buy sliced apples. More than 80% of kids don’t include enough fruits and vegetables in their diet.

“We’ve got a long ways to go,” Freytag said. However, he said consumers increasingly value not only the convenience of fresh-cut apples but also the health aspects of fresh apple slices.

Nielsen reports the total retail market for fresh apple slices grew about 12.3% compared with the previous year for the 52 weeks ending June 29, Freytag said. Crunch Pak’s own fresh apple slices sales grew 14.8% for the same period, Freytag said.

The overall value of fresh-cut apple slice sales at retail was $225 million for the year ending June 29, Freytag said, and Crunch Pak controlled 44% of the market.

Freytag said the sliced apple category at retail has is growing at an average of 20% over the past three years, and Freytag expects overall 2013 sales will reach $230 million, up about 30% from 2012.

Consumer studies show fruit sales increase more than 60% when fruit is sliced, he said.