Retailers who came on board with the Piñata apple variety are seeing the fruits of their labors rewarded. “Piñata has been in unbelievable demand, and the hard work retailers have done in past seasons is returning extra sales to them,” said Roger Pepperl, director of marketing for Stemilt Growers LLC in Wenatchee, WA. “We are having our big push on Piñata starting Jan. 1, but have sold thousands of cases already.”
The Piñata’s success story mirrors a positive image for the company’s fleshy apple manifest, comprised of both conventional and organic product.
“We have sold out on SweeTango, which finished in late October for Stemilt. We had record sales and great response on this item,” he added.
Stemilt apple volume is in full supply right now. “We are shipping Honeycrisp, Gala, Red Delicious, Gold Delicious, Granny Smith, Fuji, Braeburn and Pink Lady,” Pepperl said. “‘Pink Lady’ brand apples are also starting to really pick up and take hold in the category. Stemilt, of course, is the leading shipper of this variety in volume, and we continue to promote this fine piece of fruit. Kids love ‘Pink Lady’ brand apples.”
Movement for organic apples has also been strong. “Organic apples are selling at unprecedented numbers, and pricing will continue to push up to keep demand in check,” Pepperl commented. “Organic apples are at 20 percent of our fruit. They are in a demand-exceeds-supply curve. There will be an undersupplied market for the next several years as consumers continue double digit demand for this segment.”
Pepperl said there have been no surprises during the 2013-14 apple season. “Apple movement has been real good,” he said. “We know that Washington has the bulk of the large sized apples in the market. This allows us to have great access to the bulk segment of the apple category which is 75 percent of the business domestically. The export markets are also using good amounts of apples.”
Quality has been good. “Sizing is large this year, which means that a 72 and 80 profile works beautifully,” he added.
Stemilt moves 60 percent of its apple volume during the winter. According to Pepperl, February and March are traditionally two of the strongest months for annual movement.
On the marketing side, Pepperl said Stemilt is making a big push with its “More Matters” promotions for apples. “We are working with Produce for Better Health on trying to make apples a great reason to increase produce consumption,” he explained. “Our ‘More Matters’ promotion lines up with Apple of the Month promotions and lifestyle promotions. We see both sides of this promotion working well with Jan. 1 and the traditional diet and healthy eating kick.”
The company’s “Lil Snappers” brand — designed to get small-sized fruit into children’s hands — continues a positive reception at retail. “We have a national push on our new Gala/Navel ‘Lil Snappers’ bag that we have designed in partnership with Sunkist,” Pepperl said. “Our Lil Snapper brand continues to break all paradigms on how to sell smaller fruit with a marketing push. Consumers are eating up this promotion, and you will see lots of cross category promotions with Sunkist during the winter. Lots of fun and a different way of looking at produce.”
Use of social media is an important component of Stemilt’s work to reach individual consumers. “We are approaching 50,000 Facebook fans,” he told The Produce News. “We continue to put on Twitter parties both on our own and in groups of other fresh items. We are featuring continuous in-bound marketing offers to our consumers to enjoy and engage in. And our blog, ‘The Stem,’ will be a huge feature in 2014 and is well on its way as being the blog for fresh tree fruit in the U.S., which includes participation from the Mathison family.”
A new consumer website is in the works, and Pepperl said it will go live in 2014, delivering fresh content to consumers and the company’s fan base.