CMI Orchards’ Flavogram program a hit with retailers
Since the inception of the company in 1989, CMI Orchards has become one of the largest fruit growers in Washington State.
“CMI continues to branch out by investing in special branded varieties under licensing agreements, giving exclusivity to the company for growing rights,” said Rochelle Bohm, brand manager for the Wenatchee WA-based company. “This, in addition to the company’s decision to invest heavily in organic orchard transitions and plantings, has set CMI ahead of the competition with our full suite of conventional and organic core and specialty branded apples.”
In the past two years, CMI has partnered with three additional packing sheds, Pine Canyon Growers, Yakima Fruit and Independent Warehouse, growing the company’s volume by more than 4 million boxes of fruit. This includes apples, pears and cherries, organic and specialty branded items. With this growth, CMI is now able to offer most of their manifest year-round.
CMI’s owners have been farming orchards in Washington State for more than 100 years, and today, fourth- and fifth-generation family members are carrying the torch.
“The category has seen tremendous changes over the years,” Bohm said. “Today, there is three times the variety in packaging options available to shoppers. Bulk and poly bag packaging still exists, however today there are mesh bags, pouch bags, top seal, compostable plastic, recyclable plastic, and we are starting to see more and more fiber and corrugate packs as some retailers try to phase out of plastic altogether.”
In addition to the changes in packaging, there are more varieties and brands available than ever before. Most Washington growers now have branded apples in their mix.
“Branded apples offer many benefits for retailers, delivering new and exciting experiences for shoppers, an origin story usually tied to the Southern Hemisphere or Europe, a higher price point for trading shoppers up thus increasing category sales, and interesting store promotions such as CMI’s ‘Flavors of the World’ program where the unique world origin of each branded apple grown by CMI is celebrated in an eye-catching retail display with associated signage,” Bohm said.
Quality is paramount to CMI’s success in the category, and it is the driving force behind everything the company does.
“From the moment our fruit trees are planted to the time our fruit is packed and shipped, quality is top of mind throughout our operations,” Bohm said. “Innovation is also important and ties right in with quality. Our growers take great pride in incorporating technology that streamlines their operations, improves quality, reduces touch points for fruit contact, and new packaging and packing equipment for delivering new and exciting ways for shoppers to interact with their purchase.”
Business at CMI has been growing steadily over the past year as apples remain a mainstay in shopping carts.
“The initial surge of business right when COVID-19 hit, as shoppers stocked up on food amidst the uncertainty delivered by the pandemic, simmered down and returned to some semblance of normalcy within a few months,” Bohm said. “COVID-19 impacted the ways that shoppers wanted to interact with their food purchases, and consequently, demand for plastic packaging increased due to the perceived security shield that it offered. We are only now starting to see a return to retailers wanting to explore more fiber packaging options again.”
In fact, she added packaging is one of the biggest changes the industry will see over the next year as more options are explored and introduced to market.
“We expect to see sustainability continue to be a hot topic with our retail customers especially as Millennial shoppers migrate into the primary purchasing audience,” Bohm said. “The overall average age of shoppers is increasing, and younger buyers are more influenced by stories as a way to feel connected to the products they buy. To continue to capture the interest of these shoppers, retailers will find success by incorporating point-of-sale opportunities that tell the story, describe the flavor, cooking attributes and pairings.”
CMI’s Flavogram program is a new way of looking at apple flavors, delivering a color bar guide for easy flavor reference, plus tools and materials that can be customized to fit into any retail setting, in store or online.
CMI is owned by growers and is therefore deeply connected and tuned in to the challenges growers are facing, with increased costs across the board. CMI strives to develop marketing programs and retail promotions that celebrate the quality of their growing efforts and help keep business forging ahead.
“Quality, assortment, innovation and education are the pinnacles for success and the basis for everything we try to achieve at CMI,” Bohm said. “We strive for top-notch quality and the widest range of assortment with our core, specialty brands and organics. We have developed interesting and informative ways to tell stories and provide information to shoppers using in store signage and digital tiles that can be incorporated into online store product thumbnails and information.”