While the apple category overall is essentially flat, branded and organic apples are driving fresh excitement and sales of this iconic fruit synonymous with good health.
New varieties, along with value-add introductions and products that speak to kid-friendliness, convenience, and the popularity of juicing, are further fueling consumer interest.
“The big trend is that the branded apples are driving category growth,” asserts Steve Lutz, VP of marketing for Columbia Marketing International (CMI), in Wenatchee, Wash., one of Washington state’s largest growers, packers and shippers of premium apples, pears and cherries.
Despite a record harvest this past season, apple volume sold at retail is up only 1.3 percent, according to Schaumburg, Ill.-based Nielsen. “The branded apples and Honeycrisps are delivering nearly all of the category growth,” Lutz says, citing Nielsen scan data for the total U.S. apple category for the season running from September 2014 through April 2015.
Only three apple varieties (Honeycrisp, Jazz and Ambrosia) among the top 10 varieties grown in Washington showed dollar growth, and only four apples (Honeycrisp, Jazz, Ambrosia and Gala) showed volume growth. In terms of dollar percent change from a year ago, Ambrosia led the pack, with 23.7 percent. Honeycrisp and Jazz showed dollar percent changes of 17.5 percent and 9.3 percent, respectively.
Currently, CMI’s big push is on three relatively new varieties: Ambrosia, Kiku and Kanzi. “Ambrosia has been around the longest and is really getting traction nationally at the retail level,” notes Lutz. “Kiku and Kanzi are terrific new varieties that are already setting records with retailers.”
Kiku, Kanzi and Ambrosia are part of CMI’s major import program for apples from New Zealand and Chile. “These are great programs because they give us freshly harvested product to sell during the summer months, until the new-crop apples from Washington are picked,” he explains.
According to Nielsen data, Kanzi apples, which are up 38 percent, showed the largest dollar percent change versus a year ago. In terms of volume percent change, Kanzi is up 15.9 percent. Meanwhile, Kiku apples sparked a 12.9 dollar percent change versus a year ago, and a 24.1 percent volume change.
Further, as is the case with much fresh produce today, sales of organics are up in the apple category. CMI’s Daisy Girl is the No. 1-selling branded organic apple in the United States.
“The increase in organics is significantly stronger than the overall category,” Lutz says. “Organic apples for the season to date are up 17 percent in volume, while conventional are flat. The growth of organics continues to be terrific.
“I think the apple category will grow,” he continues. “Right now, consumers are not eating more apples, but as they experience what we’re growing I think that will change. Certainly, the focus on health will play a factor. However, the health focus is likely to have a more immediate impact on organic apples. Consumers that are health-focused also tend to have increased concerns about pesticides, which pushes them toward organic produce.”
From Juicing to Junior
Two of Stemilt Growers’ most recent apple introductions align perfectly with two of today’s hottest trends in produce. For example, the family-owned company, based in Wenatchee, Wash., released its Fresh Blenders earlier this year. The 5-pound pouch bag features value-grade apples for juicing.
“Juicing and smoothies are hugely popular,” explains Brianna Shales, Stemilt communications manager, who notes the rise of supermarkets with in-store juicing bars across the country. Of course, consumers are also juicing and making smoothies at home, and Stemilt’s Fresh Blenders make it easier to do both.
“New markets are picking up the Fresh Blenders every month,” observes Shales. “It’s really exceeded our expectations. They are a convenient option for consumers to just grab and go, and there are so many cross-promotional opportunities to merchandise these apples with everything from kale to berries.”
Another Stemilt product that, according to Shales, has met with tremendous success is the Lil Snappers line, aimed at kids, which includes 3-pound bags of smaller apples, pears and citrus, or a combination of fruit.
“It opened up a new item in the mind of the consumer,” affirms Shales. “Lil Snapper Apples are modern varieties of apples, and they’re flavorful fruit of premium quality.” The apple varieties include Braeburn, Fuji, Gala, Granny Smith, Honeycrisp, Pinata and Pink Lady.
“We’ve also found the package to be really popular among older adults who like that smaller-apple profile,” Shales adds.
To learn about efforts in the value-added apple segment, visit Progressivegrocer.com/valueaddedapples.
“The big trend is that the branded apples are driving category growth.”
—Steve Lutz, Columbia Marketing International
“Juicing and smoothies are hugely popular.”
—Brianna Shales, Stemilt Growers