The regrettable thing about so much consumer research is that it gets "sanitized" so quickly. For example, a hypothetical survey report may say, "A survey of 1,000 moms found that 64% prefer sweet apples to sour."
That is fine, but it takes the edge off the fact that each of those 1,000 consumers surveyed has their own story, their own reasons, their own motivations for acting as they do.
We don't care about 1,000 moms. One thousand moms can't hurt us, but one can. We can care about one mom and seek to understand why she picks up one apple and not another.
One of the refreshing aspects of the work that Gen X Mom Sarah Krause has done in polling some of her mom friends is that the result of her interviews reveals a level of insight uncommon in a typical consumer survey. Thanks to Sarah and friends for sharing a window to their very personal world of apple preferences.
By Sarah Krause
Julie buys apples every other week, about three to six apples of two to three different varieties … “I try to keep them on hand because they keep really well.”
When she was growing up, Julie's family only had red delicious in their home, but then a stint helping out at a farm after college introduced her to many other varieties. So she will still get some red delicious but select from many others, like gala, mcintosh, honeycrisp, and whatever is on sale. At her son’s preschool, during “apple week” the kids did an apple tasting and graphed what they liked.
He came home and said he liked gala. She was stunned and pleased to hear that, so now she buys that one. She wishes apples weren’t so expensive but appreciates when they go on ad special. One thing she’s excited about: the little individual sliced apple packs. “I like that it’s an option and it’s a good thing to buy for Girl Scout meetings, lunchboxes or just to snack on.”
TK: My wife Sally is a first grade teacher and also has "Apple Week," with all the kids bringing apples from home to school and all manner of taste-testing going on. Kudos to teachers who work apples into the grade school curriculum! Does the industry do enough to support these efforts?
Shannon buys apples about once a week when she goes to the grocery store. The family doesn’t like red delicious, (“I don’t like red apples… it’s funny, I know!”) opting instead for gala, golden delicious, pink lady and granny smith. She usually buys six or more at a time and always has them on hand. Not organic, just the "regular" kinds. They just cut, peel and slice them. …rarely bake them.
“I buy them because it’s the one fruit all my kids will eat. And it doesn’t go bad.” “I never worry about them spoiling because they last a long time.” Apples are always a kid pleaser, so she knows she can always put out sliced apples for an after-school playdate or for dinner, and they will always get eaten.
TK: Of course, Shannon's sentiment about red delicious is not all that uncommon or laughable, even though I believe reds have improved in recent years.
"Courtney" – mom of one
Courtney's family always have apples on hand (buying 3-4 at a time) “To me, they’re just very easy and well liked.” She wants them in her house all the time because: everyone likes them, they last a long time and they’re easy to serve with peanut butter, Nutella or caramel. For eating, she buys honeycrisp and fuji only. A few times a year she buys granny smith to use in recipes, like chicken salad. She tends to buy regular, not organic, and price doesn’t matter because she buys what she wants.
Here’s her complaint: apples these days are so big! “I don’t understand why we need apples the size of your head!?” She says they are hard to put in lunches (she buys smaller apples for this purpose). She isn’t a fan of the pre-packaged sliced apples, siting the off-putting taste of the chemical they put on them to prevent browning.
TK: Sarah noted that almost every mom mentioned loving honeycrisp apples. Is there any doubt that the love of honeycrisp is a consumer-driven sensation and not industry-driven? On the other hand, Courtney's comments about big-sized apples may indicate that the preference for eye-catching huge fruit may be driven by retailers and shippers more than moms.
"Beth" - mom of two girls
“We always have apples in the house,” Beth says. She’ll buy them at each shopping trip, specifically if they look good and are on sale, in which case she’ll buy more. “I get excited for honeycrisp season in the fall.” She will often buy 15 if they go on sale. Sometimes she buys organic. She buys honeycrisp and fuji and bakes with granny smith.
Her kids love to eat the peel off the apples when she makes apple pie. She doesn’t tend to buy the tote bag of apples because the quality doesn’t always seem as good. How does she serve them? Always slice them! “It seems like they don’t get eaten all the way, so that’s why I slice them.” Sometimes, if she has small apples, she’ll let her girls have it whole.
TK: Is Beth a little cautious about the "tote bag" for good reason? Retailers can't burn consumers with lower quality fruit in "tote" bags or they will pay the price.
"Karen" – mom of one
Karen is not a huge apple fan; therefore, she doesn’t buy them that often (probably four at a time every third trip to the grocery store). When she was growing up, all she’d ever tasted were red delicious (“mealy and gross”) and only later discovered other varieties. She likes honeycrisp and granny smith now, and her husband just bought some Braeburns.
“He bought them because he thought I’d like them.” She mostly buys apples for her daughter and husband. Her daughter likes them sliced “if there’s caramel dip, all the better!” and packed in her lunch. She buys the little pre-cut packages (at Costco mostly). Her advice to the industry: she wants more signs that tell about each variety offered (e.g. sweet, crunchy, good for baking, etc.). “Whole Foods had this recently, and it was helpful. With me not being an apple fan, I like to be led or taught,” she said. “There are so many choices that it’s confusing and overwhelming.”
TK: Store-level education will sell more apples, Karen says. Take note, industry.
"Christy" – mom of two boys
“We love them …buy them every week. We just like to always have apples in the house.” They buy red delicious (“have to be REALLY crispy tho”), granny smith (her younger son likes) and golden delicious (her high school boy likes these). Her husband eats any kind. They buy about 6 of each variety each trip to the store. Every day after school, her youngest has an apple as a snack. What doesn’t she like: mealiness. “I’m disappointed when I get home and two days later they’re not crisp anymore.” But that doesn’t mean she likes them pumped full of chemicals to sustain them. “I don’t want them to inject the apples with stuff – I’m all about natural.” (Still, she doesn’t solely buy organic.)
TK: The perception that apples are injected with chemicals to preserve quality is likely based on an educated guess that something must be done to apples to keep them on the shelves in July when they were harvested in October. Do consumers need to know more about the technology of fruit production and storage?
"Joei" – mom of one sixth grade boy
Joei is pretty enthusiastic about apples and buys about 20 a week for her family…granny smith, braeburn, gala and her faves, honeycrisp and golden delicious. She often buys what is on sale, and “if the organic ones look good and they’re on sale, even better.” Joei eats an apple a day, sometimes more. She’s a big believer in “an apple a day keeps the weight away.” “I swear by it!” she said.
She puts them in salads all the time, carries them with her as a snack and says eating one before lunch is a great diet tip. “I just think they’re easy to put in my bag and have as a quick, healthy snack.” Baked oatmeal using apples is a tasty breakfast dish that is well-loved in her family. Joei also loves that there are orchards around us in KC so we can get local apples. Her one gripe about the industry: use less wax on the apples! It has an “almost sticky, unnatural feel” to them, she said, which she is not a fan of. “I’d rather have a big of a scuff on my apple (than all the wax).”
TK: Joei is an ally in the use of apples as a key weight loss food, which is a theme some marketers have emphasized in recent years. Again, instructive comments here to the trade about the use of wax on apples.
"Chris" – mom of 2 boys
Chris and family go through about six to eight apples a week (“It’s something we eat every day.”), usually gala, fuji, braeburn and honeycrisp. She cooks with jonathan and granny smith (especially in the fall, when she loves to bake apple crisps and apple pies). Sometimes she buys the organic version because she said she’s always concerned about the pesticides. She wishes she could go organic more, but the prices are often too high and the supermarket she most often shops in doesn’t carry a good line of organic apples (or produce). If her store had organic apples readily available, Chris said she’d choose that option, but she doesn’t like having to drive all over. “It’s just not cost effective or time effective.” She typically serves them sliced as a snack or packed in lunches. “They are just such a great after-school snack because you can easily carry them and eat them anywhere, inside or outside.” Her boys recently tried an asian pear, but no one really liked it.
TK: Moms like Chris are ready to make organic apples the first option if they are available.
"Annie" – mom of one boy
“Oh we love them!” Annie said, stating that she buys all varieties (but they like fuji and red delicious best). They buy 12-24 every two weeks. She thinks there are more varieties of apples in the U.S. and says the quality is very good here (her family is from China). She just bought some organic because the price was the same as the regular. They like to eat them after dinner as a dessert and sometimes in the morning. Her son likes them sliced, and she usually always peels them first because of the wax on the outside. She said she worries about the chemicals.(Her lips have had an allergic reaction, and she thinks it may be related to the peel.) “Sometimes the apple is very shiny and oily with a thick skin, even when you wash it. I don’t like this.”
TK: Annie's comments again reveal that consumer choices about apples are driven by highly personal emotions and preferences. It is a truth expressed every time a mom - Annie, Sarah, Chris, Joei, Christy, Karen, Beth, Courtney, Shannon, and Julie - sets down one apple and picks up another.