Does the Washington logo still have value?
Though consumers still recognize the logo, its use on the domestic market is declining.
La Verne Bergstrom, with the Washington Apple Commission and the Washington apple logo that was replaced by the current typy apple logo in 1982. Like the new one, the old logo was used in various colors. It is thought to date back to the 1950s.
The Washington apple logo still has value in the export market, but marketers say it's being used much less on the domestic market.
Since the Washington Apple Commission stopped promoting apples on the domestic market four years ago, marketers have been doing their own promotions highlighting their own brands, rather than the generic Washington logo.
George Allan of Allan Brothers, Yakima, and a past president of the commission, said some marketers think the logo has huge value, while others don't think it means that much.
The value is hard to evaluate, he said, but considering the value of the export market to the industry versus the cost of protecting the logo, it seems to make sense to maintain the logo.
Roger Pepperl, marketing director at Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, said he thinks the logo has some value in export markets, where Washington is associated with the best quality apples. However, Stemilt does not use the logo on any of its fruit.
"I think it helps identify Washington as a growing region," he said. "If the commission's going to go overseas promoting our apples, they need some sort of icon to show who they are. But I think that's all that's needed. I don't think it does any good on the box."
On the domestic market, trade brands have become more important than generic brands, Pepperl said. Using the generic Washington apple sticker makes the fruit interchangeable with a competitor's, he said, whereas using the Stemilt brand allows the company to be paid what that specific quality of fruit is worth.
He thinks the Stemilt brand is gaining consumer recognition, and brand names will become more recognized as the Washington tree fruit industry becomes less fragmented and the number of marketers gets smaller.
"When we get down to six to eight people that are marketing the fruit, then you're going to see brand awareness increase, and you will also see pricing increase," he said. "There won't be the competition that draws prices down, and that will be a good thing."
Scott Marboe, marketing director for Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers in Wenatchee, said his company uses the Washington logo on its export fruit. "I don't think there's any question that the Washington apple logo still has value overseas.
Craig Belfield, marketing manager at Evans Fruit Company, Yakima, said Evans still uses the logo on its boxes both in the domestic and export markets and feels it has value in both.
"I think it's still recognized by the consumer as representing a quality product," he said. "You see a lot of fruit that's of inferior quality in the marketplace. When they see the Washington logo, they know they're going to get a quality piece of fruit."
Tracy King, marketing director at Dovex Fruit Company, Wenatchee, said the logo has maintained its value overseas because of the commission's promotions.
"It makes a difference, particularly in newer markets and third-world markets like China, India, and Russia, where our industry's product is perceived as the Cadillac among imported fruits. In that case, the logo does actually have value."
In mature markets, the company label is every bit as important as the logo to the wholesalers, if not more so, he added.
Dovex doesn't consistently use the logo on its cartons or on stickers. "I see fewer and fewer people using it domestically," King said. "That doesn't mean that the major shippers necessarily are convinced that their own logos are going to come to the fore. They just don't feel the pull from the Washington apple logo."
The commission licensed the logo to Tree Top, Inc., for use on its juice and other processed products, but corporate communication manager Laura Prisc said Tree Top stopped using the logo when the commission downsized.
But commission president Dave Carlson said the commission spent so much effort over the years when it was still doing domestic promotions that 90 percent of all consumers in the United States still equate apples with Washington State, and he feels that marketers who use only their own brand name on the stickers on the apples aren't taking advantage of that legacy. Carlson said a sticker that includes both the generic logo and the brand name makes sense to him.
"I don't think Stemilt is ever going to get the consumer level to recognize Stemilt itself. The trade, yes. But I think they're throwing away the $500 million that was spent on Washington apple promotions from day one by not using that PLU."
In fact, he does not think commercial brands are recognized at all at the consumer level. "And I don't think they ever will be," he added.
King said it's only been a few years since the domestic promotion programs were eliminated. "To a great extent, the industry is still running on the fumes of all the cumulative decades and decades of promotional programs," he said. "It really will take a much longer period of time to say for sure whether the logo has value or not."