( Photos courtesy New York Apple Association
)

While consumer perception of safety might’ve led to more purchases of packaged produce over loose bulk in the first couple of months of the coronavirus pandemic, some growers, packers, shippers and marketers say it’s the increase of online shopping that’s influencing how produce comes.

“Loose apples on the shelves struggled. Maybe people were hesitant because someone else touched it,” said Brett Baker, vice president of United Apple Sales, Lyndonville, N.Y. 

He noted the continued lack of evidence that the virus is transferable by food, that it’s more airborne, but perception is everything.

“We’re all still working through it, as to how to sell everything and be appealing to the customer,” Baker said.

The New York Apple Association has expanded the new poly bags with three more colors to complement New York apple varieties and help customers quickly find their favorite varieties, said Cynthia Haskins, association president. 

The association also has expanded its packaging to include a new 3-pound pouch with a band of red across the top, along with an image of modern orchard and the “Apples from New York” logo.

Brenda Briggs, vice president of sales and marketing at Rice Fruit Co., Gardners, Pa., has seen a general increase in apple demand at retail and heavier sales in bags. 

“I expect, as we get into fall, that the trend will continue with a shift into bags, and because of more home delivery and curb-side pickup,” Briggs said. 

“It’s convenient and feels safer. And for those orders, it’s easier to purchase something in bags than in loose.”

Even with early stressful days of pandemic, Hess Bros. Fruit Co., Lancaster, Pa., didn’t see a drastic shift from loose to packaged apples, said Chris Sandwick, director of marketing.

Hess Bros. is working on digital-platform solutions with retailers that have had to respond more quickly than expected to the dramatic shift toward online purchases.

“In some instances, that may be more packaging, something that’s easier to grab and go, or a digital tool to make finding the apples easier when doing online shopping,” Sandwick said. 

“We are anticipating and are ready for more digital interface.”

For many of the 150 New York grower members of Crunch Time Apple Growers, the pandemic has directly affected apple business by increasing consumer demand for packaged fruit versus bulk fruit, said Jessica Wells, business manager.

“This is a trend that is expected to continue.  Our sales agents are ready to work with retailers to meet their needs in terms of packaging styles that fit best,” Wells said.

One member is Hudson River Fruit Distributors, Milton, N.Y.

The family company has many updated packaging options for retailers this year, including poly, mesh, pouch, totes, clamshells and more, said Alisha Albinder Camac, operations manager and fourth generation to work in the company. 

 

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