The U.S. Apple Association’s annual Apple Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference, which is held in Chicago in August, is a time when apple industry leaders meet to make their best determination of the year’s estimated crop size. But they use this opportunity for more than just forecasting numbers. It’s also a chance to look farther down the road and analyze the trends that will be driving the industry years from now, whether they are technology, communication, or consumer based.
During the 2010 conference, three different presentations were dedicated to these areas, with speakers from inside and outside the apple market. They each provided a glimpse of where the industry can and should be to remain sustainable and profitable in the coming years.
Keeping Track Of Consumers
The keynote speaker for the conference was Phil Lempert, otherwise known as The Supermarket Guru. Lempert has spent more than 25 years studying consumer behavior, marketing trends, and new products in the retail industry. You may have seen him on NBC’s “Today Show,” the “Oprah Winfrey Show,” or elsewhere.
There were a number of lessons Lempert discussed that were of relevance to apple growers, packers, and marketers. The following is a short list of just some of the observations he presented:
• About 90% of consumers base where they shop on the store’s produce department. If it’s clean, attractive, and the cost is affordable, it will move to the top of their list. For growers, this means making sure you have a good relationship with the retailers you work with and are in constant communication with them.
• “Local” may be prominent today, but when it comes down to it, people simply want to know where their produce is coming from. Most consumers understand that it’s not feasible to feed everyone with a locally grown food supply; they just want to know their food is safe.
• The iPad and its associated downloadable “apps” will be the next wave in educating consumers about health and nutrition. Tools such as Big Fork Little Fork from Kraft allow parents and their children to “have a blast in the kitchen with recipes, video how-to’s, and educational games aimed at getting the whole family to cook together, eat together, and live well together.” With some apps, parents can also scan products to read about nutrition information, compare prices with other stores, or rate their feelings on their shopping experience.
In addition to Lempert’s presentation, there were other discussions on new directions for the apple industry. For example, Alecia Dantico and Janet Helm of Weber Shandwick looked at the role of social media in building and sustaining consumer demand. If you want to reach anyone in the younger generation, this is certainly the way to go. USApple has already started down this path with the creation of a “fan” page on Facebook, and organizations such as the Almond Board of California and Florida Citrus Mutual are also active on both Facebook and Twitter.
Another highlight was a panel discussion on the apple market in 2020, which featured a review of new trends in technology (with a focus on robotics and genetics), consumer demand, sustainability, and apple slices. Speakers included Jim McFerson of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission (and American/Western Fruit Grower “Tree Fruit” columnist, Steven Muro of Fusion Marketing; Roger Pepperl of Stemilt Growers; and Todd Silberg of McDonald’s Corp.
Questions To Ponder
So what does all of this mean for today’s grower? Perhaps Lempert summed it up best by offering the audience three questions they should ask themselves:
• What is the next big apple concept?
• What are three things you would like to know about apple consumers that you do not know already?
• What is the best retail innovation you have seen in the last 12 months that is not food related that you could bring home to apples?
You don’t have to be a major grower/packer/shipper to answer these questions in a way that is actionable for your business. Both large growers and farm marketers need to have their eyes on what consumers are looking for. They also need to be active in developing new and exciting opportunities that are designed to encourage repeat business from their customers.