Direct marketers—those folks, mostly in the East, who sell most of the fruit they grow directly to consumers—have not been, for the most part, able to “join the club.”
On the other hand, they haven’t been “clubbed to death” either.
“I was very concerned about that a few years ago,” said Maurice “Mo” Tougas, who operates the Tougas Family Farm orchard and direct market in Northborough, north of Boston, Massachusetts. “Now I think it hurts them more than us.”
Tougas is convinced that direct marketers are very important in the introduction of new varieties of apples.
“The wholesale industry, without the role of direct marketers, will find it hard to introduce new varieties,” he said. “There are so many now.”
A recent survey in Massachusetts shows that a third of Massachusetts households—comprising two million people—visit a direct farm market every year, he said. There, they sample new varieties as they make purchases of established ones.
“We can do more in a weekend than they can in a year,” he said about efforts to provide samples of fruit to farm market customers compared to customers at supermarkets.
“If it’s not a variety they can buy at a fruit stand, they won’t be converted,” he said.
Tougas doesn’t think club apples are bad. In fact, he’d like to grow some of them.
“We can’t get club varieties,” Tougas said. “There are some exceptions. A few growers in Minnesota can grow SweeTango without being part of Next Big Thing, and I guess some New York direct marketers can grow RubyFrost and SnapDragon, and some Canadians can grow Ambrosia, but mostly clubs are closed to retail marketers, period.”
“I guess the variety managers want to control both quantity and quality, and I can see that,” he said.
But he thinks there are just too many new and club varieties, and only a few will make it.
“They will cannibalize each other,” he said.
Everybody wants to find a new Honeycrisp, he said. “But so far there’s never been anything close to producing the level of excitement that Honeycrisp generated when it first came to market.” •
After growing up on a Michigan dairy farm, Richard Lehnert began writing about farming in 1962, while still a junior studying journalism at Michigan State University. He worked at newspapers for a year before joining the staff of Michigan Farmer, where he spent 26 years, the last 15 as chief editor. He was a member of the staff of Good Fruit Grower from 2010 until 2015.
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