Growth in the foodservice market for apples continues to be driven by fast-food restaurants.
McDonald’s, Subway and Burger King, for example, all offer sliced apples. Meanwhile, Arby’s and Wendy’s carry salads that include the fruit.
Naturally, McDonald’s decision to include apple slices in every Happy Meal is good for marketers and grower-shippers, but just how good, can be tricky to quantify.
“It’s hard to pin that down as they get serviced by processors that we supply, as well as others,” said Bob Mast, vice president of marketing at Columbia Marketing International Corp., Wenatchee, Wash. “We do not know directly how much is going into these avenues as the processors generally service multiple formats. I just know that the demand for unstickered fruit for slices has increased as a result, maybe 10% to 20%.”
Jim Allen, president of the New York Apple Association, Fishers, called the McDonald’s decision a huge boon for New York, East Coast and Michigan growers. New York empires and galas are ending up in the meals.
“Because we’re here in the East, where a high number of McDonald’s are, fortunately we’re supplying a lot of fruit to that market,” Allen said. “We supply it though a number of slicers who service McDonald’s. I don’t know volume — slicers are proprietary.
“It’s not just an additional market, but a great opportunity to meet new consumers with fresh apples. I don’t care how they eat them, sliced or whole.”
McDonald’s began rolling out the new Happy Meals in September. The chain sells more than 220 million Happy Meals annually. Apples are expected to be included in each in all 14,000 or so U.S. restaurants by the end of the first quarter in 2012.
Other suppliers to the chain have included Peterson Farms, Shelby, Mich.; Tree Top, Selah, Wash.; Ready Pac, Irwindale, Calif.; Fresh Express and Taylor Farms, both of Salinas, Calif.
French fry servings were cut from 2.4 to 1.1 ounces. Apple packets come in quarter-cup servings. Parents can request double apples and no fries.
Suzanne Wolter, marketing director at Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co., said foodservice clients keep an eye on the broader apple market.
“McDonald’s has certainly had an influence on apple menu inclusion,” Wolter said. “Many of our foodservice accounts have changed their apple specs from a red delicious to a red ‘skinned’ apple in order to provide consumers with the same varieties being purchased at retail.
“In changing to a red ‘skinned’ apple, foodservice operators have much greater purchasing options and can more easily take advantage of special buy opportunities throughout the season.”
Retail, too, keeps an eye on foodservice, but it’s a challenging market for some varieties, like Pink Lady, to break into.
“Foodservice is a market we’re really looking at,” said Alan Taylor, marketing director of Wenatchee, Wash.-based Pink Lady America LLC. “Our problem is they’re not branded. The package is either red or green. Processors will tell you Pink Lady is a premium slicer, crisp and slow to brown, But we have yet to convince a slicer to put the brand on a bag.”
Nevertheless, Pink Lady America sees a reason to pursue it.
“Our research shows consumers want to know what’s in the bag, and they’re willing to pay for it,” Taylor said. “I know, we’re not available 100%, but we’re working with slicers, and I think we’ll see a change one day.”
Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing at Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co., said foodservice growth will make smaller fruit more appealing.
“There are many processors and export clamoring for smaller size apples, and these are some of the same size apples foodservice customers handle,” Sinks said. “As schools become more and more health-conscious, we are seeing their consumption of fresh apples growing. When you combine that growth with the fresh-cut apple market exploding from the fast-food marketers using fresh cut apples, the smaller apples in the market place are becoming high in demand.”