Belleharvest expands merchandising staff to promote new varieites

The promotion of Belleharvest's proprietary apple variety, Smitten, includes merchandising plans for the central U.S. and retail point-of-sale pieces, such as this.

The promotion of Belleharvest's proprietary apple variety, Smitten, includes merchandising plans for the central U.S. and retail point-of-sale pieces, such as this.

For Belleharvest Sales Inc., Smitten, a club apple variety, will be available on a commercial-volume basis for the first time this year, according Christopher Sandwick, the firm’s vice president of sales and marketing. Sandwick said there are “a number of orchards around the country” producing Smitten. But Belleharvest growers have exclusive rights to produce the new variety the Midwest. Belleharvest will represent the variety “in the Midwest and middle part of the country with our retail partners.”

Sandwick said Smitten is a pink and yellow bicolored apple. It is “really crunchy and really juicy.” The apple was bred in New Zealand. Its shape is “a squattier, Old World look versus a conical apple. It should distinguish itself on the shelf.”

But Sandwick is not leaving it to chance that consumers will spot the Smitten amongst other apple varieties.

Belleharvest is using a proprietary logo and packaging to attract consumer attention.

During the Smitten shipping season, which will run this fall from mid-September through Thanksgiving, national shippers of the club variety will be supporting a promotion to benefit the Susan B. Komen breast cancer research organization.

For every Smitten purchase, a certain percentage of sales will be donated to the organization, which has raised $2.9 billion in cancer research since it was founded in 1982.

Smitten is the official apple sponsor of Susan G. Komen. Logos and point-of-sale materials will be used to promote the fundraiser in the stores of participating customers.

“We are excited about promoting a great apple and supporting a great cause,” Sandwick said.

Beyond the Smitten, “another apple we are excited about is the EverCrisp,” Sandwick said. While the Smitten is an early-season apple, EverCrisp comes onto the market “after the holiday spot. Look for it in mid-December or January. It’s a very, very sweet apple. People who like sugar will like this. It has an unbelievable crunch.” Sandwick said Honeycrisp is one of the EverCrisp parents, but EverCrisp has higher sugars. The texture is similar to Honeycrisp. It has a nice fracture. You bite and you get a big piece of apple and a lot of juice.

“We recognize that introducing a new variety is not the same as selling traditional apples,” said Sandwick. Belleharvest, which is based in Belding, MI, is promoting these new varieties with retail demonstrations and promotions. “We are staffing up to work in stores,” he said.

Belleharvest recently hired Rafferty Fynn to work from Minnesota to cover the central part of the country. Fynn has “years of retail experience and merchandising expertise that should prove very beneficial” to retail customers,” Sandwick said.

Complementing Fynn by his continuing representation of Belleharvest amid the country from points south and east of Lake Michigan is R.J. Simons, “who is very well-known in the industry” for his merchandising proficiency.

“It is imperative that we really work with our customers” to introduce the new varieties.

Not educating the customers on the benefits of the new fruits, “is a waste of shelf space,” he said. “It’s a crowded category. It takes a lot of work to rise above the noise and launch a successful item.”

Sandwick continued, “At the end of the day, we are so invested in this because our growers are so invested. For a new variety to be produced, an old variety must be torn and a new one is planted at great expense. Then, there is no guarantee it will be popular. If we don’t work hard for our growers then we don’t have a job. The investment is so high on every level that it’s a disservice if we don’t do our best.”

Sandwick said his philosophy “is to try to produce a great tasting food to compete with unhealthy snack foods.” He cited firms like Frito-Lay and M&M Mars as his competitors.

Sandwick said that he wouldn’t speak for the Michigan apple industry as a whole. But he noted that Belleharvest “will have a nice crop this year. There were some concerns on the crop in Michigan. But ours will be very, very similar to last year, which was a record year for us.”

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