New York apples were in short supply last season, so growers are expecting local consumers to be eager to get their hands on the 2013 crop.
“We are looking forward to returning to the shelf this fall, and the retail and consumer demand is already extraordinary,” said Mark Nicholson, executive vice president of Red Jacket Orchards, Geneva, N.Y. “We are seeing vigorous support from our retail partners to get New York apples back on the shelf and to return to a more normal sales and promotion year. I believe this in direct response to the frustration retailers dealt with last season when they had to explain to their customers where their favorite local apples had gone and how long it would be until they returned.”
Lee Peters, vice president of sales and marketing for Fowler Farms, Wolcott, N.Y., said his company’s proximity to a multitude of East Coast markets saves customers fuel costs, and a growing number of consumers understand and appreciate sustainability.
“Local is king,” he said.
And not just in New York.
John Rice, vice president of Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa., said more retailers are putting local front and center in their stores.
“The result is that we’ve had outstanding support and movement at the time of year we appreciate it most,” he said.
Maggie Travis, director of sales for Bear Mountain Orchards Inc., Aspers, Pa., said demand for local is obvious in the way retailers are promoting product to consumers.
“If you turn on the TV here, you’ll see Wal-Mart, Giant and Food Lion competing based on who has the best produce department,” she said. “It’s been a positive impact on our business.”
But it isn’t just retail driving the buy local trend. In fact, Travis said the biggest increase in demand has come from institutional business.
“The school deal has really picked up on local,” she said. “Schools are making the local connection happen. The government put a lot of focus on that and put some money behind it. Parents are demanding more from school lunch programs.”
Travis said using fresher, local fruit makes sense for parents trying to convince picky eaters to try something new.
“Local fruit tastes better,” she said. “So you’re getting something a kid will actually eat. If you can get a kid to try a good piece of fruit and realize how awesome it can be, they’re going to eat more fruit and have better health. It’s a win-win. That’s the most exciting thing to me.”
Jamie Williams, president of Turkey Knob Apples Inc., Timberville, Va., said his company also is experiencing increased demand from institutional business.
“We get a lot of customers wanting to know where they can get locally grown produce,” he said.
“We have several universities requesting locally grown produce. Students have gotten involved, and they want locally grown fruit instead of something that is trucked across the country. Government agencies are requesting it. They say, we grow apples in Virginia, and we want Virginia apples here.”