CHICAGO (FNS) -- Following last year's banner apple harvest, the 2000 crop is expected to keep pace with only a 6% decline, according to the United States Department of Agriculture.
At the U.S. Apple Association's recently held marketing conference here, it was estimated that the 2000 domestic crop would come in at 238.9 million bushels, slightly lower than the U.S. Department of Agriculture's estimate of 254.2 million bushels. Last year's harvest of 252 million bushels was valued at $1.5 billion and was the seventh largest on record.
Growers groups claim that it is the widening availability of many varieties, coupled with the last few season's presentation of excellent quality fruit, that has renewed consumer interest in apples.
"We're expanding production of a wider selection of varieties," said Kraig Naasz, president and chief executive officer of the USAA, based in McLean, Va. "Good weather in most growing areas this spring and summer will yield excellent-quality fruit this fall. Consumers are in for a real treat when these apples hit the market in the coming weeks."
James Cranney, the organization's vice president, agreed, adding that the combination of variety and quality should again impress retailers.
"There is a continuing trend for retailers to sell a higher percentage in the newer varieties than ever before," he said. "Along with traditional Red and Golden Delicious, Granny Smith and McIntosh sales, the new Fuji and Gala varieties introduced in the 1990s are just starting to take off. Cameo, Ginger Gold and Pink Lady varieties are expected to create a lot of consumer interest as more of them have a chance to taste them. These new varieties are being treated like new products by apple marketers."
Apples are grown commercially in 36 states; however, the bulk of the crop comes from Washington, where upwards of 60% of the national crop is grown. Other primary growing regions include the states of New York, Michigan, California, Pennsylvania and Virginia, as well as New England.
The Washington crop is expected to be the second largest in the state's history, according to Jim Doherty, domestic marketing director, Washington State Apple Commission, Wenatchee, Wash.
"We have had the same excellent super growing conditions as we did last year resulting in more apples than before," he said. "This means there is more of an opportunity to sell apples for retailers."
Within the Washington growing region, the diversification of crops is seizing an increased share of the market. Officials say that the traditional favorite grown in the state, Red Delicious, represents less that 50% of the crop this year.
"There is tremendous growth in the gourmet varieties," Doherty said, referring to Fuji, Gala, Braeburn, Jonagold, Cameo and Pink Lady in particular. "There is a strong and growing consumer interest in the newer varieties because of the differentials in flavor and crispness."
To move this crop the Washington State Apple Commission has boosted its promotional program, increasing marketing funding by up to 50%. Similarly, the organization has requested retailers increase their own marketing efforts to move 40% of this season's crop within the first four months of the crop year, which is September through December. Generally the commission aims to market some 33% during the same time period.
To bolster retailers' efforts, the commission is using a combination of in-store and out-of-store strategies. High-graphic boxes and point-of-sale materials are being used to help retailers build eye-pleasing displays; demonstrations are being used to promote the new varieties; and new display contests are challenging stores to create dynamic displays.
Out-of-store advertising messages about Washington State Apples are being presented to consumers in the form of billboards, radio and television messages and ROP advertising.
Additionally, the commission is promoting auxiliary displays within the outside of the produce department to help move apples. Wings, lobby displays, waterfalls, font-end merchandising and cross merchandising in the fresh deli and fresh bakery departments are just a few suggestions, according to Doherty.
To aid retailers in marketing, the commission has developed a set of best practices aimed at creating eye appeal within the produce aisle and incorporating the new varieties into the department to boost sales.
"Apple promotional programs need to address all consumer segments," said Doherty. "The gourmet customer is different than the Red or Golden customer. Bag customers are value oriented. Customers interested in large-size fruit are different than those seeking smaller sizes.
"Retailers need to look at all the segments and build their departments and programs targeting every customer segment one or more times per year," he said.
While the marketing arena is bright for apple marketing, on the grower side all is not so sunny. Industry analysists predict that serious economic challenges facing growers may mean that this year's crop may be the last for some. An increase in world production, coupled with lower-priced imports, have resulted in growers receiving low prices for apples bound for fresh-market sales outlets over the past 20 years, according to officials.
Additionally, world market activity has caused prices that growers receive for processing apples to also plunge. Specifically, the USAA has accused China in dumping apple juice concentrate on the U.S. market, resulting in tariffs of up to 52%.