Michigan apples should get 'local' boost from Midwest

09/09/2009 10:32:58 AM
Ashley Bentley

Shoppers in Michigan will have one more way to distinguish their state’s apples this year — a new Kwik Lok from the Michigan Apple Committee.

Quite a few of the state’s shippers have jumped on board with the promotion by affixing the fastener onto poly bags of apples.

“It’s a 2 (inch)-by-2 attachment that we launched last year, but we’re doing four times as many this year,” said Denise Donohue, executive director of the DeWitt-based committee.

The committee had three focus group studies done, each with 15 or more participants. Donohue said the study’s results supported the idea that consumers want to know where their apples come from, and want to buy apples from as close to home as possible.

So, this season, most of the state’s apple shippers will be using the committee-developed quick-locks on their bags of local apples.

Donohue said even though apple bags must disclose the origin of their contents, recent research from Michigan State University revealed that most consumers still don’t know where their apples come from.

Students from the university’s school of business did some front-line research, asking consumers as they left the supermarket where their apples came from. Many consumers said they had bought Michigan apples, but in fact had another state’s product in their carts.

Donohue said the students, as part of a class project, also developed mock marketing plans for Michigan apples.

“We’re getting these bright young minds giving us creative, innovative advice,” Donohue said. 

Tom Curtis, president of Michigan Fresh Marketing, Belding, said his company worked with the commission last year to promote local apples, but is getting into the program in a bigger way this year.

“In some commodities — peaches is one — the local chains will use pretty much all we can raise,” said Barry Winkel, general manager, Greg Orchards & Produce Inc., Benton Harbor, Mich.

The company ships anywhere east of the Rocky Mountains, Winkel said.

Glei’s Inc. does direct store delivery for almost 50 stores within 100 miles of its Hillsdale, Mich., headquarters, said Owen Glei, president and part-owner. The company merchandises with Michigan Apple Committee signs and promotional material, he said.

Traverse City, Mich.-based North Bay Produce Inc. will also participate in the quick-lock program, as well as other Michigan Apple Committee programs.

Nick Osmulski, sales manager, said the company ships other local product, such as asparagus, and has seen a good push for local product in recent years.

“The proximity to market is huge,” said Tom Pletcher, vice president of sales and marketing for Belding, Mich.-based Belleharvest Sales Inc. “You’re not putting a lot of food miles on the fruit.”

Pletcher mentioned some recent focus group studies the Michigan Apple Committee has done, the results of which came out with positive results for Michigan apples.

“They show a considerably better taste profile than apples grown out West,” Pletcher said.

Donohue said in a portion of the studies, consumers were asked to blindly taste test different varieties of apples from different states. Michigan Honeycrisps came out on top, with Michigan jonagolds second, she said.

The committee is also supplying in-store signs, which it has been doing the last five years or so, Donohue said. One of those is a school bus display-ready carton to promote apples as a lunch box item.

In Michigan, Illinois and Indiana, states that consider Michigan apples as local, a proof of purchase contest will include cash prizes and a new computer for a school.

The Michigan Apple Committee also works with Select Michigan, a program originally launched by the state’s department of agriculture, on promoting local produce.

“In the immediate area we operate in, a number of retailers grabbed onto the initiative,” said Don Armock, president of Riveridge Produce Marketing, Sparta, Mich.

Riveridge will be using the Michigan Apple Committee’s quick-locks for its local products.

The commission also developed a section of its Web site for grower profiles to tell the stories of the state’s apple growers.



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