TOLEDO – Producers learned how apple varieties were selling in retail, wholesale and you-pick markets during a session at the Ohio Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Conference and Ohio Roadside Marketing Conference.
David Hull of Whitehouse Fruit Farm in Canfield, Ohio, told attendees in order for him to draw in the “new generation” of apple consumers, producers have to grow better quality apples.
“These aren’t the same customers we were seeing 10 years ago. They want a good quality apple,” said Hull. “The number one issue is firmness.”
Hull discussed the apple varieties that keep his consumers coming back. He relies on Gingergold as his springboard for the rest of the apple season. He starts buying them in Virginia until his crop is ready, and the consumer response has been positive. Other varieties that have done well are Gala, Honey Crisp and Jonagold.
However, he has not gotten a lot of consumer response to Braeburn and will not plant it this season.
The most popular new variety at his market has been Fuji.
“Fuji has been a godsend. From Thanksgiving on, it is outselling all other varieties 4-to-1,” said Hull. “It is the best seller we’ve had in a long time.”
He said new apple varieties are important to his retail business because they create excitement. He says customers want to know what is good and what is new.
Andy Lynd of Lynd Fruit Farm in Pataskala, Ohio, says the key to being successful in the apple business is “thinking outside the box” and being prepared for a change in the market. Ninety percent of the apples grown on their farm are sold wholesale, while the other 10 percent is sold in a you-pick operation.
His top sellers for you-pick are Golden Delicious and Fuji.
Lynd said it is important to grow apples that keep their quality and flavor. He has also found a lot of consumer enthusiasm with Gold Rush, Sun Crisp and Honey Crisp.
He also thinks the you-pick market is going to grow, but cautions that is not for everyone.
“We find that a lot of people like to pick their own. They will ask you a lot of questions about how they were grown,” said Lynd. “If you’re not a people person or if you can’t handle some trash being thrown down, this is not for you. You have to be very customer friendly.”
Dave Gress of the Fruit Growers Marketing Association says producers have to be aware of trends and be able to adapt rapidly to consumer changes. He says consumers want bigger fruit and better color, and farmers should grow what sells.
He also said it is important that he can give the consumers a healthy product. He says 25 percent of the fresh apples in the market should not be there for one reason or another.
“Our industry has always been supply- rather than demand-driven,” said Gress. “Producers need to know what the consumer likes and then they need to start producing it.”
He says along with hail and fire blight, Ohio producers had to contend with a large national apple crop this year.
“The national crop is too big. We knew it going in. It’s a fact of life,” said Gress.
Contrary to the sales at the retail and you-pick levels, the sales of Fujis in bags were not good, according to Gress. His best sellers were the Red and Gold Delicious.
One of his most popular items is fresh cider. Pumpkin sales were also up slightly, but the biggest increase in sales came from peaches. He had a 240 percent increase in peach sales.