As consumers pulled back on spending during the economic downtown, sliced apples thrived with creative marketing and by riding the healthy-living wave.

And Tony Freytag, national marketing director of Crunch Pak in Cashmere, Wash., doesn't see things slowing down.

During the past five years, retail sales of sliced apples have increased 33 percent. Those figures only include grocery stores and don't include Walmart, Costco, Whole Foods, Trader Joes and specialty stores. They also don't include food service.

Along with overall sales growth, Freytay says there was a 24 percent increase in the places that sold sliced apples.

"That means there are more items than there ever have been, and it's moving from one or two to an entire destination," Freytag told attendees at the U.S. Apple Association's annual marketing conference recently in Chicago. "We have to look like we're there. When you put two items on a shelf, they get lost."

Four years ago, there were an average of 3.2 SKUs per store that contained fresh-cut apples. Now there are an average of 7.8 SKUs per store.

He credits part of the sales growth to innovative marketing ideas. When the recession hit and consumers were watching their pennies, packages of sliced apples that cost $4 or $4.99 required more of a thought process.

So many processors developed single-serve packages, such as dippers, that retailed for 99 cents to $1.29 each and met the lower price points.

Now the single-serve comprise 29 percent of sales dollars and 14 percent of volume in the overall sliced apple market.

Freytag also credits the increased use of sliced apples by quick-serve restaurants, such as McDonald's, Wendy's, Burger King, Subway, Arby's and Carl's Junior, for boosting overall demand.

"We're very happy—we don't produce for McDonald's, but we're very happy that they're doing this. Everybody benefits because it brings more awareness."

But to continue this growth, Freytag says sliced apple producers have to becomes more inventive to reach the consumer, and they can't count on the retailer to do it for them.

That means innovative packaging that doesn't resemble anything else in the produce department.

"Our competition is in the center of the store," Freytag says, referring to traditional snack items. "We have to look like the other snack guys."

By doing so, Freytag says he hopes sliced apples can capture the attention of moms, who want healthier foods for their families.