Most people probably buy their apples at their local grocery store or farmers market, but Michigan apple growers say the fruit is showing up almost everywhere these days, including convenience stores, gas stations and dollar stores — albeit in very small numbers.

Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc., Sparta, Mich., is selling more fruit to convenience stores now than in the past, and the company puts together individual packs for airlines, president Don Armock said.

“It’s not a very substantial volume, but it is an important part of the mix,” he said.

He expects that segment of his business to build as time goes on.

“Apples are a natural healthy snack,” Armock said, “and if you’re providing a healthy choice right at the point of sale, I think it’s going to grow.”


Gas station apples

Places like convenience stores and gas stations have offered apples for several years, said Diane Smith, executive director of the Lansing-based Michigan Apple Committee.

“We definitely have seen quite a bit of apple movement into those areas,” she said, although the volume is not very large.

Sales likely are through foodservice or distributors that can pack multiple items in one box, Smith said, since it’s unlikely that a gas station, for example, would buy even one case of apples at a time.

“(Apples are) a viable commodity to have in the convenience stores, because they can charge a nice premium on those and not have too much inventory,” said Tom Labbe, sales manager for Sparta-based Jack Brown Produce Inc.

But local convenience stores might buy their apples from large retail stores, rather than from major apple grower-shippers, he said.

 He sees more potential with dollar stores, which he said continue to expand.

“We have worked with several of those dollar stores, and we are trying to finalize a partnership with as many as possible,” he said.

He worries about potential shrink, though.

“I don’t know if they have the ability to hold a decent amount of inventory, like a large chain,” he said. “It’s kind of an in-and-out-type product.”

Eventually, he said, more dollar stores likely will add coolers to enhance shelf life of produce items.

Ken Korson, apple category manager for North Bay Produce, Traverse City, Mich., said he sees apples merchandised in bins in some dollar stores.

“They’re pretty shelf stable,” he said. “They’re something they can put out to generate some extra sales.”

Chris Sandwick, vice president of sales and marketing for Belleharvest Sales Inc., Belding, Mich., said he would like to see these alternative channels introduce some new apple varieties.

“Those outlets have been slower to adopt new things, so they have been great purchasers of some of the older varieties,” Sandwick said. “Now, the challenge is to incorporate some of these new and better-eating apples into that chain.”

He said, for example, he’s seen fancy hotels in big cities put out a bowl of “old red delicious on the counter.”

“I think we could probably offer their guests a better eating experience than that,” he said.