An emphasis on healthier fare in schools and quick-service restaurants has brought foodservice profits to the Eastern apple industry, growers and shippers say.

“We do a fair amount of sliced apples, and every year it has been growing,” said John Rice, vice president of Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co.

Success in the fast-food or school foodservice niche requires quick responses to needs for certain varieties and fruit sizes, Rice said.

“Traditionally, the fresh-sliced apples have been interested in two varieties, galas and empires,” he said.

A smaller empire crop may prompt some changes there, Rice said.

“With the small crop of empires in the East this year, I’m hoping they’ll look to some other varieties this year,” Rice said.

He said he hopes golden delicious apples fit customer needs this year because that variety will be on the market in abundance.

“They have the advantage that naturally they don’t turn brown when you slice them, so they don’t require a lot of preservatives,” Rice said.

The foodservice sector provides a much-needed venue for small to medium-sized fruit, Rice said.

School business continues to grow, as districts continue their emphasis on fruits and vegetables and pull junk-food options.

Several apple-slicing operations have moved into Virginia, which has created opportunities for apple growers and shippers there, said Jamie Williams, president of Timberville, Va.-based Turkey Knob Apples Inc.

“We’ve sold a little bit into the sliced apple market,” he said.

The slicing market has brought an additional benefit, Williams said.

“That has helped push up the processing prices,” he said.

Williams agreed with Rice that sales to slicers will continue to grow, which will benefit the industry as a whole.

School business is a big part of the overall growth trend for Eastern apples, Williams said.

“We have been getting a lot of schools jumping on the Buy Local Buy Fresh bandwagon,” he said.