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Sampling a key to driving excitement over new apple varieties

As EverCrisp volumes increase for Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc. for this Christmas holiday, “Honeycrisp will likely be our second variety in terms of volume,” according to Don Armock, president of the firm. He said this reflects “new bearing surface coming into production.”

Fall volumes for Riveridge varieties this year are, in order, Gala, Red Delicious, Honeycrisp and Fuji.

“We have increasing volumes of Pink Lady, but it is early days and volumes are still low. EverCrisp is building in available volume and interest and we have limited volumes available to promote,” Armock said.

Evercrisp-planting-RiveridgeOn May 10, new acreage of the EverCrisp variety is planted at Riveridge Produce Marketing Inc.Furthermore, “We are experimenting with a couple of managed varieties and learning our way. These controlled-release varieties are the result of private breeding programs and are not from university breeding systems. As we have been evaluating new varieties, it continues to be apparent that sampling is the absolute best method to develop consumer trial and excitement.”

Armock tells retailers that “Fall is absolutely the most important time of year to feature Michigan apples. Consumers are transitioning from summer fruits to the fruits of fall, and apples are the most significant ring for a three-month period. For some customers, fall usually brings tote bag promotions with multiple varieties at a line item price point. These are usually either prefilled or fill your bag for a price point.

“While price is an element in driving sales, in-store location, positioning and attention-grabbing displays are backbone of capturing the ring,” he said.

In addition to an export program, Riveridge ships apples across this continent and over 90 percent of the firm’s pack volume is sold out of state.

Still, Armock stressed, “There is an important local element to Michigan apples, and this extends to surrounding states, as Michigan enjoys significant all-seasons tourism. So, between visits to farms, fruit stands or farmers markets, there is a lot of exposure to Michigan apples and there is that halo effect from the memories of vacationing in the peninsulas of Michigan that impacts products at retail.”

He continued, “As growers, we receive very good support from the retail community, be the customer a national, regional or local retailer, and this keeps Michigan apples in front of consumers throughout the year.

“In the regions where Michigan apples are considered the regional supplier it is important to give prominent displays and signage to call out the local flavor and freshness of product.”

Armock noted that an important factor for customers “is close-to-market. We are able to ship from east of the Rockies to the Atlantic in no more than 48 hours, and it is often possible to order product and have it packed and delivered in 24 hours. At Riveridge all varieties are run over lines with internal defect sorting and ‘gentle fill’ lines so our service levels are very high.”

And, in the packinghouse, “Increasingly we are packaging apples in customer-specific packaging. Often private label. Poly bags are still the backbone of our consumer packaging; however, we are increasingly doing pouch bags — particularly in higher price point varieties. Our crop is 60 percent sold in some type of retail consumer packaging. Generally, we see more usage of consumer packaging although we see a decline in mesh packaging demand from our customers.”

Riveridge’s recent focus group work has revealed insights to consumer usage.

“While most people report eating apples as a mid-morning or mid-day snack, or as a complement to lunch, we were surprised by the number who had an apple for breakfast or prior to an exercise regime.”

In other news from Riveridge, Armock said, “We have upped our game in terms of food safety with packing plant training sessions for food safety and cleaning crews scheduled frequently, environmental-testing frequency dramatically increased, and revisions to packing facilities completed during summer months.”