Summer promotional opportunities. Sustainability and consumers. Increasing consistent quality. These were a few topics discussed at the first Apple Quality Summit 2021, hosted this past Friday by Hazel Technologies, Inc. In 2020, Mario Cervantes of Hazel Technologies reported the company treated 3.2 billion lbs. of food and prevented more than 270 million lbs. from going to waste with its technologies--the Hazel 100™ 5g bin sachet and Hazel CA technologies, which help protect the quality of the fruit in bins, plus Hazel Datica which monitors cold storage in real time.
In sales industrywide, apples in 2020 were the second largest within fruit dollars--of the approximately $33 billion on fruit sales in 2020, while $7.2 billion went to berries, apples carved out $4 billion--an increase of 1.2 percent in dollars over the year prior. While that dollar increase may seem modest, Anne-Marie Roerink of 210 Analytics and Summit speaker said in pounds, apples moved more significantly. “We moved apples well in pounds --up 6.1 percent but we didn’t keep up with dollars so that points to deflation,” said Roerink.
Speakers at the Summit included Mario Cervantes (left) of Hazel Technologies and Anne-Marie Roerink (right), principal of 201 Analytics. (Center): Hazel Tech's sachet packaging inserts which helps extend the shelf life of produce.
Late 2020 changes
That changed as 2020 went on. “In the fourth quarter of 2020, dollars and volume were up about two percent. From then on out, apple dollar growth outpaces volume growth which means we switched from a deflationary environment to inflationary,” she said.
Meanwhile, organic continues to be a critical distinction for consumers of produce. Organic apple sales make up about 15.5 percent of total apple sales. “Conventional varieties were up about five percent in volume. Organic apples easily outpaced that with a 12 percent dollar growth and a 16 percent volume growth,” said Roerink. “Organic will continue to be a growth area for the apple category.”
Roerink also touched on promotional opportunities for 2021. “We often see apple charts on selecting or storing apples tucked away in a back corner,” she said. “It’s time to bring them out and educate consumers, especially for those different types of using occasions--snacking, baking, etc. And to also introduce people to new varieties as well to help grow sales.”
Snacking is key
Snack occasions continue to be important to consumers and Roerink noted a recent promotion pairing apples and peanut butter as a snack idea. “Baking also went off the charts in the pandemic. Anything relative to baking throughout the year saw a 20 percent increase in sales over a year ago,” she said and encouraging participants to consider baking promotions--such as an apple pie kit paired with fresh apples that was done in the Netherlands--particularly in the months where apple sales are lower. In 2020, apple sales particularly dropped in the third quarter which may mean expanding promotional ideas around summer--think using apples in a fruit salad--as a better fit for that summer season. “It wouldn’t be unlike what berries have done all throughout the year. Consistent sales and consistently being in that number one-selling position, regardless of the time of year, drove berry growth,” Roerink said.
Fixed weight versus random weight bags was also addressed. “We see strength in fixed weight. For total produce, that was up 18 percent versus four percent for random weight,” says Roerink. “In fruit that difference was even bigger. So in apples, even if you’re not merchandising the apples as bulk, having those bags is a good idea for people who don’t want their apples touched by others in addition to speed. Shoppers continue to rush through the store so having prepacked apples can help people speed up trips.”
Sustainability also continues to be a key consumer trend. “It continues to drive dollars, especially in produce where consumers are interested in everything waste--package, food, carbon footprint, water used to grow produce, etc.,” says Roerink. “Social responsibility and fair wages will also be a big thing in 2021 and that’s something apples really need to become involved in.”
Left to right: Scott Kee of Sacia Orchards and Leighton Rice of Rice Fruit Farm.
Two growers also participated in the summit and discussed the importance of consistent quality in fruit growing. Scott Kee of Sacia Orchards in Galesville, WI touched on early Honeycrisp varieties. “Honeycrisp is almost a gold standard now and what people gravitate to in the grocery store,” he said. “If I can get an early apple that’s a Honeycrisp into the store before other apples, I think I’ll be able to catch sales.” He says the focus would be on moving those apples out rather than storing them, though he did add that using Hazel Tech’s sachet technology is economical insurance for growers.
While Honeycrisp is clearly a favourite with consumers, Leighton Rice of Rice Fruit Farm in Gardners, PA noted that while Rice also grows the proprietary KIKU apple, they’ve also planted other varieties such as EverCrisp, Ambrosia, Lemonade and a new variety called Wild Twist. Diversification seems to be key for growers. “Honeycrisp is also unpredictable and tough--it’s tough to do it well and to make money for growers and storage operators and packers,” he says. He also adds that customers are catching onto the educational piece around apples. “They’re becoming more sophisticated about varieties and variety names and they’re also becoming more discerning in terms of taste and texture. Customers have favorites now and that quality piece is so essential in making it successful,” Rice said.