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With "a lot of apples left" to sell, the Michigan Apple Committee will be aggressively continuing its marketing efforts in 2010, according to Denise Donohue, executive director of the DeWitt, MI-based organization.

As of the first of the year, the Michigan Apple Committee is promoting health and fitness. The focus this year is a continuation of last year's popular Wii Fit Nintendo game sweepstakes, Ms. Donohue said. "We have 80 chains of stores participating in the Wii Fit giveaway." Consumers may collect proof-of- purchase labels to enter to win six Wii base units and the corresponding Wii Fit software.

She said that all the stores that promoted Wii Fit a year ago "are coming back to it. We have a nice database of over 7,000 customers who have responded to us in some way in the past. We will contact them with e-mails in the next couple months." The correspondence will share Michigan apple use ideas and other similar information.

A retail tray-pack rebate that began Dec. 1 will be running until March 1, Ms. Donohue continued. To earn a rebate, a retailer must run three advertisements on any of 10 Michigan apple varieties specified by the Michigan Apple Committee. The ads must be for loose apples, sold per pound to reinforce tray-pack sales. With the huge crop of Michigan apples, there is plenty of fruit "to back that up and make a nice push with Michigan trays this year."

She explained the market research rationale for promoting tray packs: "A year ago, we heard that people in the upper Midwest wanted to buy local apples. And they wanted to buy apples that were grown closest to their homes, but they didn't want to buy bags. People who like to hand-select fruit are those folks who are really looking for Michigan applies offered in trays. That is what the data say." So the rebate program, which pays 25 cents per case with a maximum reward of $4,000 per retailer, was created.

Ms. Donohue said that this is the first time the Michigan Apple Committee has offered such a promotion, and there is a good apple supply to support such a promotion.

She noted that the committee also had a holiday baking rebate that ended Dec. 24.

In other promotions, representatives of the Michigan Apple Committee will be making individual store visits this year.

Furthermore, the committee will be participating in a fresh and processed Michigan fruit booth in Chicago this May at the exposition of the National Restaurant Association.

The cooperative effort will be three standard booths wide, with a chef promoting Michigan cherries, apples, blueberries and peaches.

Ms. Donohue said that the Michigan Apple Committee sponsored a single booth at the NRA show last May. "The booths with the most traffic had an entertainment portion" to their presentation. The involvement of a chef and a larger booth, she said, "is very costly," but that cost has been overcome by grouping Michigan fruit commodities together and by receiving a promotional grant from the farm bill.

(For more on Michigan winter apples, see the Jan. 11, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)