Eastern apples are quick to credit processors for giving them a big cut of the foodservice business.
They predict things will just get better.
“They just continue to increase, especially with QSR (quick-service restaurants) continuing to increase apple slice purchases,” said Jim Allen, president of the Fishers-based New York Apple Association.
McDonald’s made headlines several years ago when it started to offer sliced apples as healthy alternatives with Happy Meals.
The volumes of apples headed to restaurants only grew from there, Allen said.
“We’ve got some great varieties in New York, and they’re great slicing varieties,” he said.
Retailers have followed suit, ordering sliced product for their own shelves, said Lee Peters, vice president of sales and marketing with Wolcott, N.Y.-based Fowler Bros Inc.
“Every store you go into has sliced apple and in different forms,” he said.
Sliced apples comprise only one of two important foodservice categories for Eastern apples, said Mark Nicholson, executive vice president of Red Jacket Orchards. Geneva, N.Y.
“The other part of foodservice is the school pack, like a 125 No. 1 grade,” Nicholson said.
There has been growing demand from local schools, in particular, Nicholson said.
“There’s been preference for school lunch-type programs, where they are more aware of the origin and source and want to source more local product,” he said.
Developing a school market has had challenges, but it is paying off, Nicholson said.
“It took a little longer, probably because of the logistics behind it, but you’re seeing it more and more,” he said.
School sales also have led the way in institutional foodservice sales, said Tim Mansfield, sales and marketing director with Burt, N.Y.-based Sun Orchard Fruit Co.
“The sliced apple category drives foodservice and continues to be real strong, but beyond that, you have your traditional school apples and small apples for the restaurant business,” he said.
Prisons are purchasing more apples, too, said Jack Bream, owner of Orrtana, Pa.-based Bream Orchards.
“The government has bought a lot,” he said.
There’s no reason to expect any different results this year, said Brenda Briggs, vice president of marketing at Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co.
“The slicing market has in recent years become a very important part of sales of apples and is an expanding market,” she said.
Bream said the slicing market is an ideal venue for apples whose aesthetics may be less than perfect.
“We put the lesser-colored apples in the slicer category,” he said.
John Lott, president of Aspers, Pa.-based Bear Mountain Orchards, said his company has seen an upturn in orders from a slicing operation that opened nearby.
“A plant opened in Southern (New) Jersey for sliced apples, and we’ve had two- or three-day priorities for sliced apples; I think that’s going to continue,” he said.
Another new business stream for apples is “squeezers” — applesauce in tubes, Lott said.
“It’s a new market for applesauce, and it’s picking up a lot of share,” Lott said.
All told, more new sales venues are opening up for apples, Lott said.
“All those items add up to very positive returns,” he said.
The growth trend will continue, said David Benner, general manager of Fairfield, Va.-based El Vista Orchards.
“Mom doesn’t stay at home to cook anymore, and we eat out — that turns into sales,” he said.