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A rack card developed by CMI tells consumers about the health benefits of eating apples, with a focus on fiber content.

A rack card developed by CMI tells consumers about the health benefits of eating apples, with a focus on fiber content.

If the Washington apple industry wants to avoid losing shelf space, it should consider reinstating a general promotion program for the domestic market, suggests Steve Lutz, former president of the Washington Apple Commission.

Lutz, now vice president of The Perishables Group consulting firm, said that the comparatively large amount of shelf space that has been allotted to apples was the result of a decade of consistent effort made by the Apple Commission to convince retailers to dedicate ever greater space to the apple category.

Those efforts came to an abrupt end in 2003 when the commission’s domestic promotions were ruled unconstitutional by a district federal court judge in Washington State. At that time, numerous commodity commissions around the country were being challenged.

The Apple Commission today promotes Washington apples only in export markets, with a much smaller budget. It collects an assessment of 3.5 cents per box, compared with as much as 40 cents per box during the time Lutz was ­president, from 1994 to 2000. The assessment was 25 cents a box when the ­commission downsized.

Marketers are now conducting their own proprietary promotions in U.S. markets, but there’s a lack of effort to promote apples generically, Lutz believes. “Who’s talking to the consumer today about increasing consumption and why they should eat an apple versus a grape or a strawberry?” he asked.

Market share

Marketers are spending huge amounts of money battling for market share, he noted. “At the end of the day, nobody is big enough in the industry to really ­effectively put those messages out about why we ought to be choosing apples.”

Meanwhile, the berry industries have been pounding on consumers with results of research showing the health benefits of those foods.

While the U.S. Apple Association has sponsored some research projects showing the health benefits of apples, Lutz said that organization is not funded well enough to have the impact needed.

“The industry would be well-served to step up the contribution and put it against something that continues to pound the message of why consumers ought to be eating apples,” he said.

Since the commission downsized, the U.S. Supreme Court has upheld the constitutionality of commodity boards, and Lutz believes it could be revived.

“With the amount of funds spent on the share battle, the industry would be well served to take a sliver of those dollars and put them back into something that convinces people to eat more apples, whether it’s at the state level or the USApple level,” he said. “It’s important product ­messaging.”

But Bob Mast, marketing director at CMI (Columbia Marketing International) in Wenatchee, said the various marketing companies are promoting apples generically as well as their own brand. For example, they provide retailers with point-of-sale cards and posters touting the health benefits of apples and the importance of making them part of a diet. Some materials suggest menu items using apples in creative ways, whether in salads, main dishes, or desserts.

“So, I think there’s actually a lot of market programs out there pushing the whole apple category in general,” Mast said.

Mast said a tremendous amount of money is being spent by the marketing companies on point-of-sale materials and promotions, so he does not think retailers lack promotions for apples.

“They have more options than they once had,” he said. “When you have one centralized agency doing the promotion, you have to go with a kind of cookie-cutter approach and present a unified program, whereas marketing the fruit the way we are now allows us to offer something different to our retailer than their neighbors have. That’s part of the differentiation.”