Color and choice build sales of Eastern apples in retail stores, but nothing seems to draw shoppers more effectively than locally grown fruit, according to marketers.
This year, for example, Pennsylvania retailers will feature display binds that convey a “Family Grown, Orchard Fresh” theme, said Julie Bancroft, executive director of the Harrisburg-based Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program.
It’s appropriate, since apples are grown by 270 family-operated orchards across Pennsylvania, she said.
“We’re doing this to make it easier for retailers to emphasize locally and regionally-grown apples — that’s what customer are looking for,” Bancroft said.
The “locally grown” consumers in New York also relate to fruit grown close to home, said Jim Allen, president of the Fishers-based New York Apple Association.
“With consumer demand increasing every year for a number of different categories, homegrown is on top of the list,” he said.
The reasoning is simple, Allen said.
“I think consumers more and more are interested in knowing about their food, who grew it, where it’s from and how it’s handled,” he said.
Therefore, any information that a grower or packer and retailer can provide to consumers, talking about the food they just bought is advantageous in marketing the fruit, Allen said.
“Obviously, there are segments of consumers that aren’t concerned about it, but you look at growth of Whole Foods and Wegmans, that justifies what I’m saying,” he said.
The lure to homegrown fruit has been strong for many years, said Lee Peters, vice president of sales and marketing with Wolcott, N.Y.-based grower-shipper Fowler Bros. Inc.
“Our customers like to promote local and we like it when they do that,” he said.
It’s actually the key to sales, said Tim Mansfield, sales and marketing director with Burt, N.Y.-based grower-shipper Sun Orchard Fruit Co.
“There’s been more interest lately, but Eastern retailers have always supported Eastern apples and along with that there’s good support for apples grown elsewhere,” he said.
Local is an “exciting” trend that keeps growing, said Jeff Crist, president of Walden, N.Y.-based Crist Bros. Orchards Inc.
“It seems they keep building up a following and we’re delighted to see that,” he said.
A proliferation of farmers markets enhances sales efforts and even helps to build sales of newer varieties grown locally, said Lee Showalter, food safety manager and grower services for Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa.
“We have quite a few direct marketers in our area and, in general, they help to acquaint consumers with good information about new varieties as they come to market, which, I think, helps us all as we start to get significant quantities of new varieties,” he said.
Apple growers across the Eastern region are fortunate to have retail customers who are of the buy-local-first mentality, said David Benner, general manager of Fairfield, Pa.-based El Vista Orchards.
“The attitude — I don’t know how big it is anywhere else — is the buy-local is very prevalent, and we are very appreciative of the chains that cater to that, and they support Eastern suppliers as much as they can,” he said.
What’s considered “local” can vary, of course, said Jack Bream, owner of Bream Orchards, Orrtana, Pa.
“Our local markets are up and down the East Coast, basically,” he said.