BelleHarvest hypes winter apple varieties
BelleHarvest was established in 1957, therefore its roots within the apple industry are deep and its experience and reputation are well known.
“Each year brings innovation and change,” said Angie Sommers, director of marketing for the Belding, MI-based company. “Our organization has worked hard to adopt both to provide continued quality year after year. As our industry experiences a shift in automation and improved technology, we can maximize efficiencies and provide more opportunities for our entry level employees to move into skilled positions throughout the organization.”
On a typical year, the company packs around 1.6 million boxes of apples. This year, the crop varied in volume across varieties, which has led to a reduction in BelleHarvest’s Honeycrisp output.
“This past year presented many challenges across the produce sector but overall, it was a successful year,” Sommers said. “2020 taught us to act swiftly and push forward when faced with adversity. We were disappointed with the reduction in volume after the spring frost, however that has allowed us to move pricing up where we can and try to improve returns for our growers.”
As of early 2022, BelleHarvest’s fruit trees are entering dormancy, and they are gearing up for what is expected to be a solid year.
“We anticipate a large apple crop in 2022, as the trees have built up vigor after not bearing a large crop this past year due to the frost,” Sommers said. “If we experience a slow progression into dormancy and temperatures don’t fluctuate rapidly throughout winter, we should be in a good spot heading into spring.”
Over recent months, the company has worked with some retailers that have put a bigger emphasis on their monthly apple promotions for premium and emerging varieties. They created a set of tactics for each month and aligned those with ad dates and discounts.
“We worked together to create print and digital ad campaign materials that empathized education and awareness of our Michigan Apples,” Sommers said.
With Honeycrisp volume down throughout the Midwest, the winter season provides the perfect opportunity to promote new varieties such as Evercrisp and Smitten.
“We need to present varieties in a way that enhances the experience for the consumer,” Sommers said. “We can do this by creating displays that highlight the flavor scale or incorporate usage charts alongside the variety name, so shoppers have a better idea of ways to incorporate their apple into recipes. Find ways to cross-merchandise other products to spark curiosity and trial.”
For a winning program, Sommers suggests retailers start with the basics —maintaining sales on Honeycrisp and legacy varieties such as Gala, Fuji, and Red Delicious.
“Honeycrisp alone drives 28 percent of Q1 dollars, based off Nielsen data,” she said. “Legacy varieties add an additional 54 percent of dollars. Consumer purchases are shifting to higher cost varieties in Q1, so use this opportunity to promote Honeycrisp, legacy and premium varieties.”
This past year has been an exciting one for BelleHarvest as the organization completed an acquisition of Michigan Fresh Marketing.
“This has provided us the opportunity to diversify our business with the addition of a local fresh vegetable program,” Sommers said. “Having the team at Michigan Fresh join our group at BelleHarvest provided synergies across the board. We look forward to building our network in the years to come.”