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    New apple varieties, promotions and contests create excitement and sales opportunities.

    By Jennifer Strailey
    SweeTango aims to hit the “Sweet Spot of the Apple Season.”

    Next month is Apple Month, and to honor the occasion and drive sales of everything from Honeycrisps to Granny Smiths, U.S. Apples is bringing back its successful Appletize Me interactive social media-based campaign.

    As part of the promotion, the Vienna, Va.-based organization is relaunching an expanded version of its www.appeltizeme.com website, which invites consumers to choose their personality type and then get paired with an apple variety based on that persona. For example, social butterflies are matched with Gala apples, while fitness fanatics are paired with Fujis.

    Last year?s campaign, which ran through October and into November, garnered 74 million media impressions. U.S. Apples hopes to top that this year. Radio spots will plug the Appletize Me site featuring additional personality types and apple pairings, along with recipes, usage suggestions and pairings designed to increase apple purchases. Marzetti and California Walnuts are partnering with U.S. Apples to include pairings of dips and nuts.

    ?We are always trying to drive the category and increase sales on behalf of our members across the U.S.,? says Wendy Brannen, director, consumer health and public relations for U.S. Apples. Consumer education on the health benefits and versatility of the fruit is critical to this mission.

    ?We are seeing that more people are using apples in recipes and not just eating them as a snack,? observes Brannen, who adds that heightened awareness of the importance of eating healthfully and maintaining an active lifestyle has created new opportunities in the category. ?We?re seeing apples used as a healthy ingredient in salads, chutneys, relishes, as a topping on pizza and flatbread, and even in soups,? she notes.

    The availability of new varieties of apples is also generating consumer excitement. ?There?s a lot of consumer curiosity about different apple varieties,? says Brannen. New York state recently introduced two new varieties: SnapDragon, an extra-sweet and juicy apple, and RubyFrost, a sweet and tart crisp apple.

    Building Sales, One Bite at a Time

    SweeTango, a cross between the Honeycrisp and Zestar! varieties, is another new apple that has captured consumer interest. The apple crop, which is available from early September into November, sold out in just 60 days last year.

    To encourage a repeat performance this fall, the growers who produce SweeTango apples are launching a retail campaign featuring an interactive map populated by shoppers? tweets, posts and texts. In-store, on-pack and online messaging will encourage customers to tweet, Instagram or text a picture of an in-store SweeTango display, using the hashtag #SweeTangoSpot. Shoppers will be entered to win a year?s supply of apples, while retail locations will automatically be added to SweeTango?s map and shared socially.

    The campaign also includes demos in select stores around the country, along with pairing cards. ?We believe this is an underserved area. We?re trying to build more use occasions by suggesting different pairings with cheeses and things like Marcona almonds, which really complement SweeTango apples,? says Tim Byrne, executive director of Next Big Thing (NBT), a Lake City, Minn.-based growers? cooperative.

    ?SweeTangos have that wonderful bite, crispness and chunky way the apple comes off the core. Its large cell structure allows for that explosion on biting. It also has a complex flavor that is sweet and juicy, but with some residual acidity,? says Byrne, describing the apple?s distinctive appeal.

    NBT has also partnered with several food bloggers around the country to get the word out about the apple?s many use occasions. According to Byrne, while sliced apples continue to grow at a reasonable pace, bulk apples aren?t seeing the same lift.

    ?The quality of apples that the industry is bringing to market has never been better,? observes Byrne. ?Even still, we?re having trouble jerking the needle up on consumption. As an industry, we need to work better to get across our message of flavor, freshness and health attributes.?

    At the retail level, Byrne recommends emphasizing the new crop and regionally grown apples from Labor Day through Thanksgiving. ?I would also suggest taking any opportunity to put a face with the food. Use the farmer?s picture with a little bio. Let customers know, this could be your neighbor. Those kinds of stories build an empathic consumer base and brand the apple category,? he notes.

    SweeTango apples are grown in Washington state, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, and the Canadian provinces of Quebec and Nova Scotia.

    Back to School

    Stemilt Growers, in Wenatchee, Wash., shipped the first of the season?s SweeTango apples in late August. ?It?s a fun apple,? says Roger Pepperl, Stemilt marketing director. He sees tremendous potential in merchandising SweeTangos alongside a host of different varieties to create sales-boosting fall ?apple-ramas.?

    It?s not only apple season, it?s also time to head back to school, which means parents will be shopping for healthful lunchbox fillers and after-school snacks. ?We?re emphasizing kid-friendly apple-ramas with kid-size fruit,? says Pepperl, who points to Stemilt?s Lil Snappers line of smaller fruit in 3-pound stand-up pouches.

    ?Data has shown that apple-rama displays increase the apple category not only in sales units, but also in sales dollars. We see both go up, so the impulse to buy is there,? he notes.

    Pepperl believes that one of the produce industry?s oldest marketing concepts ? the produce manager display contest ? is still one of the most effective. ?If the produce manager builds a nice display, the store makes more money and consumers eat more apples,? he asserts. Stemilt will run apple display contests through October.

    New Website Promotes Apples

    In conjunction with New York state?s 2014 apple harvest, which kicked off Aug. 15, the New York Apple Association, based in the town of Fishers, launched an all-new consumer website dedicated to New York apples. The website, www.nyapplecountry.com, includes profiles of dozens of New York state apple varieties, and nearly 100 recipes.

    Also featured are locator maps on the home page that connect consumers with local orchards and farm markets in and around New York.

    In late July, growers from across the state predicted a 2014 crop of 30 million bushels, slightly smaller than last year?s 32 million bushels, but still above New York?s five-year average of 29.5 million bushels.

    ?We are seeing that more people are using apples in recipes and not just eating them as a snack.?
    ?Wendy Brannen, U.S. Apples

    By Jennifer Strailey
    • About Jennifer Strailey

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