Lady Alice variety apples ripen up in Washington state for Rainier Fruit Co. ( Courtesy Rainier Fruit Co. )

Washington grower-shippers offer their customers a wider selection of branded apples than ever, but getting their product on produce shelves can be a challenge.

“There’s a lot of crowding in the branded apple category,” said George Harter, vice president of marketing for CMI Orchards, Wenatchee, Wash.

“Everybody’s fighting for space.”

The key is to tell your story and persuade retail buyers to carry your apple, he said.

“It’s no different than any other item in the store,” Harter said.

“It comes down to rolling up your sleeves and getting to work and creating promotions and opportunities for retailers to be able to sell those items.”

Suppliers need a good sales plan behind their products in order to gain shelf space, said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for Sage Fruit Co. LLC, Yakima, Wash.

“You can’t just put it on the shelf and hope it sells,” he said.

Send buyers sample of your new apples to taste for themselves, he suggested, and provide merchandising bins, plan sales contests and arrange for in-store sampling programs.

Retailers want to differentiate themselves and are open to trying new varieties, he said.

“If you have a good solid plan behind it, they will do it.”

“It’s all about finding the right flavor and color to stand out and be original,” said Catherine Gipe-Stewart, communications manager for Yakima-based Domex Superfresh Growers.

Touting the company’s signature Autumn Glory variety, she said, the yellow background “creates a color break, and the caramel and cinnamon notes stand out and are original and memorable.”

Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash., learned the hard way that coming up with the next great apple variety isn’t easy, said Andy Tudor, vice president of business development.

The company invested millions in its first proprietary variety called Junami, which originated in Europe, he said.

“Consumers didn’t care for it,” Tudor said.

Rainier cut it loose and focused on its Lady Alice variety instead, which has proved to be much more popular, he said.

It’s a good practice to monitor scan data to determine which varieties are bringing back the most dollars to the category, he said.

“We’re all competing for the same space, and there’s no more real estate there,” he said.

In the end, the consumer will decide who wins, Tudor said.