NY seeks marketing strategy
New York Apple Growers is soliciting ideas for marketing new apple varieties.
Those new apples from New York are being prepared to come to market, with the first expected in quantity in direct farm markets in 2014 and in commercial markets in 2015 or 2016.
At least, that’s what’s envisioned in the overall plan that’s in the process of development. The apples have yet to be planted, they have no names, and only a few thousand trees that growers test planted across New York give growers a feel for growing them and consumers a taste of what’s to come.
In April, the New York Apple Growers made public a one-page marketing plan prospectus “seeking information from stakeholders and potential partners regarding the ideation of the commercial sales and marketing strategy.”
The focus in 2011 will be on collecting ideas, developing an initial marketing plan, collecting market research data, and defining the target market for each variety.
Jeff Crist, Hudson Valley (Walden, New York) grower and owner of Crist Bros. Orchards, is vice chair of New York Apple Growers and chair of its marketing committee.
“We want to make it as public as possible,” he said about release of the prospectus. “We’re looking for ideas, from within and outside the state, as we manage the release of these new apple varieties.”
Some things are known. In an interview with Good Fruit Grower, Crist said that last year, New York growers were invited to participate in a new cooperative that would produce and market two new varieties, bred and released by Dr. Susan Brown at Cornell University and named New York 1 (NY 1) and New York 2 (NY 2).
They may only be grown in New York by New York growers, according to terms of the varieties’ release.
143 growers sign up
Of New York’s estimated 600 apple growers, 143 signed on to participate and plant about 950 acres, two-thirds of them the sweeter, crunchier, Honeycrisp-like NY 1, and one-third of them the tarter Braeburn-like NY 2, high in ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and bred to resist browning when cut.
When they reach full production, there should be about a million bushels total from which to pack, Crist said. Packout is expected to be good, because these apples are grower-friendly, according to Brown, and don’t have either the production or fruit quality problems of Honeycrisp.
The 143 growers are part of a now-closed group that will produce the apples.
Last summer, Wafler Nurseries, Wolcott, New York, budded trees that will be ready to plant in the spring of 2012, Crist said. NY 1, the weaker growing tree, was budded on more vigorous rootstocks, like M.9 Nic.29, while the more vigorous NY 2 was budded on weaker rootstocks like M.9 337 and Bud.9.
Bill Pitts, the nursery manager of Wafler, said that about 160,000 to 180,000 trees should be available for planting in the spring of 2012, and additional trees will come as part of a three- or four-year plan. Geneva rootstocks of about the same size were limited in availability, he said, so only a few were grafted to these new rootstocks. Also, he said, he was reluctant to graft very many trees of new varieties onto rootstocks that were also relatively new.
Pitts also noted that several New York growers have their own nurseries and will be producing their own trees. There has been some limit on availability of budwood, which needed to be bulked up before more trees could be produced.
Growers had an opportunity to test some trees before they were released. “Some trees from the very early trials are now five or six years old,” Crist said. “There are a few thousand of those trees spread around,” so some consumers get to taste them at direct farm markets.
Just as other Cornell horticulturists like Dr. Terence Robinson are studying the new varieties to help growers refine techniques for growing them, and Dr. Chris Watkins is developing protocols for storing them, Crist said the marketing folks at Cornell are working to help set the stage as well.
Dr. Miguel Gomez, assistant professor in the Charles H. Dyson School for Applied Economics and Management at Cornell University, is working closely with New York Apple Growers, as are two of his colleagues.
Gomez is supervising a summer intern, Krista Call, paid by NYAG, who will gather basic information that marketers would need to know when launching new apples. She will provide the information to Cornell students who will be taking a fall semester class from senior lecturer Dr. Debra Perosio at the Dyson School.
Perosio has taken on the new apples as the subject for her class, Marketing Plan Development.
“The class allows students to apply their skills to a real-world business situation,” she said. Eighteen four-person teams will each develop a marketing plan for the apples and present their findings at a Sunday afternoon showcase near Thanksgiving. The apple growers are invited to hear 18 three-minute pitches and will receive, free of charge, 18 papers explaining each team’s marketing plan in detail.
The students analyze the apple business, study competitors as diverse as other apples to junk food snacks, and come up with a plan to market the apples—what should their names be, what stores should sell them, what audiences should be targeted, what prices should they sell at, and how should they be promoted.
“While this is a sophomore-level course and not done by students at the MBA level, they will present a lot of really good ideas,” Perosio said. “In addition, the ideas come from a younger cohort of people.”
Dr. Bradley Rickard, an assistant professor in the Dyson School and director of the Horticultural Business and Policy Program, has conducted consumer surveys of the kind of names people respond to.
“Sensory names”—like Honeycrisp, SweeTango—that describe taste or texture have greater appeal than “appearance names”—like Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, or Red Rome, he said. And the poorest names are “namesake names,” like Empire, Cortland, or McIntosh.
“This is not a charted course,” Jeff Crist said. “We want to explore all the available options.”
As the prospectus says, “The mission of NYAG is to manage the release of new advanced apple varieties and market these varieties at an accelerated pace that delivers profit and long-term sustainability to our members and licensing partners and to overwhelm our fresh apple consumers with a positive fresh apple eating experience.”