Shiny new apple varieties get a lot of attention, but locally grown legacy varieties still generate plenty of sales and enhance the health of the category in general, marketers say.
“We have consumers that have migrated South and love to follow our brand,” said Dave Williams, vice president of sales and marketing with Wolcott, N.Y.-based Fowler Bros. Inc.
“In their opinion, it brings back the good old days, and they want to support people where they came from.”
Allegiance to locally grown product is a timeless phenomenon but appears particularly popular now, said Alisha Albinder, operations manager with Milton, N.Y.-based Hudson River Fruit Distributors.
“The local movement is definitely a strong one as people always want to support what’s near to them,” she said.
In some cases, buying local is the only way consumers can find traditional varieties, Albinder said.
“Certain varieties like macoun, cortland and empire are traditional ‘Eastern’ varieties, so a lot of the demand comes from that part of the country,” she said.
“However, since people move around much more and with the ‘new apple craze,’ we are finding requests for these varieties in new markets.”
High-quality, regionally grown apples are a must-have for any marketer, said Brenda Briggs, vice president of sales and marketing with Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co.
“Consumers want a choice of great products, and they also want the story behind their food,” Briggs said.
“Many times, by highlighting the regionality of our apples it gives us a chance to tell the customer more about our history and commitment to excellence in the apple industry. Offering a regional product allows the customer to connect with their food source, gives them another reason to enjoy what they are eating.”
Local apples are big sellers at Ken’s Fruit Market, said Alex Courts, a buyer with the three-store chain in the Grand Rapids, Mich., area.
“We like to think Michigan has the best apples, and we’re often getting them the day they’re harvested,” Courts said.
Local always is a factor in marketing, but the apples have to be good, said Steve Lutz, senior strategist with Wenatchee, Wash.-based CMI Orchards.
“The best way for a retailer to kill sales is trying to hang on to local apples too long as the quality and supply disappear in the winter months,” he said.
“Consumers are very focused on external factors when selecting apples. So, retailers need to be very aware that quality counts and not assume that simply stocking ‘local’ is the magic sales elixir.”
Whether product is sourced locally, regionally or beyond, certain marketing elements have to be in place, said Brianna Shales, communications manager for Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers LLC.
“There is definitely a place for local fruit and any local produce in the department, and we certainly see regional supplies take more space in the Midwest and East Coast during the fall,” she said.
“We think that regardless of where you are sourcing apples — locally or from us in Washington state — that shoppers want to know the person who grew their food. Sharing that story — and locale — is a great way to remain authentic and not commoditize your apple category.”