Apple marketers fight for shelf space

 
 Apple grower-shippers say it's extremely difficult to persuade a retailer to give shelf space to new apple varieties, such as the Smitten apple here. (Photo by BelleHarvest Sales Inc.)

Apple grower-shippers say it's extremely difficult to persuade a retailer to give shelf space to new apple varieties, such as the Smitten apple here. (Photo by BelleHarvest Sales Inc.)

Securing shelf space in the produce department can be a challenge, especially at certain times of the year, Michigan apple grower-shippers say.

And persuading a retailer to stock a new variety can be like pulling teeth.

Fall is the optimal time for apple promotions, since that’s when supermarkets do a department reset, switching from summer soft fruits to fall products, like apples, said Roger Kropf, owner of Core Farms LLC, Hartford, Mich.

But the reverse happens in the spring, when berries and soft fruit take center stage.

That means suppliers must take advantage of their time in the sun at retail — from Oct. 1 until May 1 — he said.

The winter holidays also can be tough on apple displays, said Ken Korson, apple category manager for North Bay Produce, Traverse City, Mich.

That’s when winter citrus starts to infiltrate the produce department.

“It’s a challenge (for apple growers) to keep that shelf space,” he said.

A key to maintaining year-round excitement in the apple category is to set up secondary locations outside of produce, said Tom Labbe, sales manager for Jack Brown Produce Inc., Sparta, Mich.

Put a bin in the center of an aisle in a different section of the store, he suggested.

New Varieties

Securing space for a new apple variety can be even more difficult.

The University of Illinois Extension says 100 apple varieties are grown commercially in the U.S., and the Michigan Apple Committee lists 16 varieties available from Michigan alone, so persuading a retailer to take on a new variety can be an arduous task.

Supermarkets may try out a new variety “here and there,” Kropf said, “but they’re slow at trying out new varieties in any sizable fashion because they don’t know if they will get enough return sales on it.”

Some customers actually are open to trying new varieties, Korson said, but growers can’t always supply enough product when a variety is introduced and trees are still young.

In that case, suppliers may have to find an “in-and-out customer” who will carry the variety for a short time.

 

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