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Fowler Farms sees apple sales taking off

By
Keith Loria

Austin Fowler, co-owner of Fowler Farms, has been around apples for most of his life, and the company is an industry staple in New York.

The Wolcott, NY-based company offers approximately 20 different apple varieties, and also has several different types of ciders. All of it has been on the upswing in 2020.

“We continue to have a really solid year based on the growing conditions we had this past season, which were really favorable,” Fowler said. “We’re just getting some out of storage and the fruit quality is excellent and the eating quality is strong.”

There was a very dry summer, so fruit size became something of a challenge, but the flavor more than makes up for that.

“Compared to last year and the size of the crop, we’re about the same,” Fowler said. “Really, the big standout difference is there were two contrasting seasons. Last year was a lot of rain, where this year is more like a drought.”

This year has also been unlike any other for Fowler Farms in that it’s getting more compliments on its website, and seeing a lot more interaction with consumers, which Fowler believes is because more people are working from home and enjoying apples at their desk.

“That’s been really nice to get during these tough times,” he said.

Even during the shutdown in March, Fowler Farms still saw a lot of activity. While some retailers pulled some varieties and went with just the Galas or Red Delicious and things people are more familiar with, by summer and fall, specialty varieties had returned to prominence.

“I think people are looking for something different and better than the normal,” Fowler said. “There’s been a huge shift from the ‘easy’ to looking for the new with the hopes of finding something better. Sales show that SweeTango, SnapDragon and EverCrisp are really taking off. Honeycrisp obviously is strong as well. The bottom line is these are the best apples to eat today and people recognize that.”

The apple industry as a whole has been favorable during the pandemic, with Fowler noting that apples are the luxury bargain of the produce category and gives people a lot for their money.

“When things get tight, apples are very durable and have a long shelf life. They won’t go bad as some other produce items do, so they are like the hidden gem of the produce department on ROI for the consumer to grab and enjoy,” Fowler said. “The flavor is outstanding. So, when people are being careful about where they spend their money, they are driven to the apple category.”

For 2021, Fowler believes the industry in general is reexamining some of the packaging and looking at consumer trends as to whether moving more into bags or sealed packages will be the way to go — things popular during the pandemic.

“We need to supply what people are going to want to buy,” he said. “We’re developing plans to go one way or another based on where we end up, so we are sort of just planning for the unknown right now.”

Fowler Farms does have some significant investments in the orchard-side of things for 2021 and is planning on a new packing line that will do bags more efficiently.

“We’re just on a positive growth pattern,” Fowler said.

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