LENEXA, Kan. — The U.S. apple supply is plentiful and business is good as the new year begins, though Jim Allen says the abundance of varieties offered to retailers does present challenges.
Allen, vice president of marketing for New York Apple Sales, Glenmont, N.Y., made a stop at The Packer’s office on Dec 23 to talk about apple marketing in the 2019-20 season.
New York Apples Sales markets several club or proprietary varieties of apples, including Koru, EverCrisp, SnapDragon and RubyFrost.
Koru, a cross between a braeburn and fuji developed in New Zealand, is marketed by New York Apple Sales and Washington shippers Chelan Fresh and Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers.
The three marketers are licensed with Coast to Coast Growers Cooperative, Allen said, which is the designated organization that can import and grow Koru in the U.S.
“The taste (of the Koru) is very good, and you get rave reviews when you sample it,” he said, noting some describe the tangy sweet variety as giving a hint of honey and a vanilla aftertaste.
New York Apple Sales markets the Koru from its own orchards through February and imports them in March and April.
“We try to plan it that way, so there is not a gap (between domestic and import supply,” Allen said.
With Cosmic Crisp apples from Washington making a splash this year, both marketers and retailers face a challenge in finding sales space for the abundance of new apple varieties, Allen said.
Several years ago, for example, Allen said retailers would approach apple marketers with the message “I want the next new apple and you make sure that we get it.”
“Now they are somewhat inundated and they just have so much shelf space,” he said. “There is not quite the hunger for that new variety.”
New varieties may offer better taste than some older standard variety apples, but many consumers may not be aware of them yet.
“Typically, when a new (variety) comes in, it’s going to displace at least some shelf space of something else,” Allen said. “As new ones come in, they’re not necessarily in high demand as what people would think they would be just because it’s new, and customers just aren’t aware of it,” he said.
Connecting with consumers
Allen said New York Apple Sales is connecting with consumers through its “Yes! Apples” brand marketing message, unveiled in the fall. The brand emphasizes the fresh, juicy and local aspects of the company’s fruit. The brand also tells how the family-run operation has been involved in the apple business since 1919, and women-owned since 1999.
The brand’s message resonates with consumers, Allen said.
“The consumer today really wants to know the backstory,” he said.
He said the company’s research found that consumers are interested in family farms and supporting local farmers.
The company has communicated its brand message with its website, blog, social media accounts, bag designs, and point-of-sale materials. Once New York Apple Sales has the attention of consumers, Allen said it will talk about the company’s sustainability efforts to preserve the farms.
The brand also is involved with donations to charity and recycling efforts for the brand’s packaging, Allen said.
The company is working with retailers to reduce the plastic footprint from packaging, Allen said. He said New York Apple Sales is developing an organic cotton bag that can be used by consumers at retail when they purchase bulk apples.
While growing volume of emerging apple varieties will present challenges to marketers and the trade, Allen also sees potential.
As e-commerce continues to grow, Allen said there may be even greater opportunities to tell the story of a brand or a variety to consumers.
“I think there’s a real opportunity there because you can communicate more information to a customer online than you’re going to do at the store level,” Allen said.