Michigan apple growers are moving on from a 2012 season they’d like to forget, and the Michigan Apple Committee, Lansing, has plenty planned to help them do just that.
“We’ve had a lot of retail visits,” Diane Smith, executive director of the committee, said June 6.
“They’re excited to have us back, and we’re excited to be back. We expect a great quality crop. Weather has been cooperating.”
That wasn’t the case last year when frost and drought limited the state’s production to less than 4 million bushels. Michigan, the nation’s third-largest source of apples, typically grows more than 20 million bushels a year.
An official crop outlook won’t be available until August, but sources said the state is expecting excellent quality and volume.
Joe Santoro, area supervisor and buyer for independent retailer Nino Salvaggio International Marketplace, St. Clair Shores, Mich., said in early June that consumers already are asking about a crop that won’t arrive until late August.
“People are eager for local fruit after last year,” said Barry Winkel, part owner of Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, Mich. “That is a big deal.”
The apple committee plans to make a big deal out of local, promoting Michigan apples as such not only in Michigan but also in neighboring Ohio, Indiana and Wisconsin as well as nearby Illinois.
“We’re going to continue to work the locally grown program,” Smith said. “It’s been a great initiative for Michigan apples. We’re within 500 miles of half the U.S. population and half its income. It gives us unique advantage.”
The Michigan Apple Committee will work with grower-shippers and retailers to promote a locally grown sweepstakes from September through November in those five states. Information on contest specifics will be available to consumers on apple bag closures.
Winners will receive a two-night stay for two people at Crystal Mountain Resort in Thompsonville, Mich., a spa package and their choice of either four all-day ski lift tickets or four rounds of golf.
Smith said the committee can support participating retailers with signs, recipe cards, tote bags, sampling and other promotional support. A display contest also is planned.
Also from September through January, the apple committee will offer a Cooking With Apples online recipe contest.
“We get hundreds of recipes,” Smith said. “We want to make consumers aware of all the different uses for apples. They’re not just for snacking and pie.”
Chefs will judge the entries, and winners will receive KitchenAid mixers, she said.
The promotional program includes recipe cards, in-store demonstrations and use charts and meal tips.
Another sweepstakes, this one promoting healthy living, is planned for January through March with winners receiving free treadmills.
“People are trying to make healthy decisions and changes to their diet after the holidays,” Smith said.
She said the committee gave away three treadmills in a similar promotion last season and will give away at least that many this time.
As with the locally grown program, contest information for consumers will be featured on bag closures. The committee will support participating retailers with signs, recipe cards and product demonstrations.
The committee plans to support all three promotional programs through social media and on www.michiganapples.com.
Although the Healthy Living program is available anywhere Michigan apples are sold, the committee will take things one step further in the Chicago market.
Smith said the U.S. Department of Agriculture awarded the committee a specialty crop block grant to do apple sampling in the Windy City, not only in retail stores but at health fairs, sporting events and other venues.
The apples likely to be featured in the Chicago sampling events are gala, Honeycrisp, jonagold, and fuji.
The committee has promotional programs — again featuring signs, recipe cards, sampling and display contests — available for retailers for Honeycrisp and jonagold, which are available from September through December and October through January, respectively.
Smith said the committee also is working on a back-to-school promotion featuring tote bags and signs intended to appeal to moms and kids.
“Apples are great for school lunches,” she said.