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INDUSTRY VIEWPOINT: Fall merchandising opportunities still exist for apples

For more than a century, National Apple Month has provided a promotional foundation for the domestic apple industry, which evolved from a single-day event to a three-month promotional marketing opportunity for retailer and military stores nationwide.

Most important, it is not too late to capitalize on the fall merchandising and display benefits of the 2005 National Apple Month contest.

The program is making a difference for the industry. While the awards and prizes are distributed to individual stores and foodservice operations, the end result of the promotion is a positive for everyone. Last year's fall promotion winners saw an overall sales increase of more than 23 percent. Fresh apple sales increases ranged from 4.2 percent to 47 percent, while processed apple products experienced sales increases of 3 percent to 41 percent.

The NAM partner products also enjoyed sales increases last year, with the winner of the 2004 contest noting a sales increase of more than 15 percent in T. Marzetti apple dip sales, 10 percent in T. Marzetti apple crisp sales, 12 percent in peanut sales, 19 percent in peanut butter sales and 11 percent in peanut product sales. T. Marzetti Apple Dips and Apple Crisp, along with the nation's peanuts and peanut products, are expected this year to experience sales lifts similar to last year.

Part of the reason for the success of the NAM program is its ability to tap into impulse purchases, which result in incremental sales of apples and partner products. Consumers often do not make many of their purchasing choices until they enter the grocery store. An exciting, well-designed display featuring the great taste and healthy attributes that come with eating apples can, and does, increase apple sales.

The 2005 retail and military contests run through Nov 30. The number of prizes has dramatically increased to 50 from 19 at retail and to five from three for military commissaries. In addition to the general display prizes, there will be first, second and third prizes for the best health-oriented display.

And to coincide with National Apple Month's 100-year anniversary, the top 100 photos from the 2005 contest will be published in The Produce News in the weeks following the announcement of the winners in late January 2006.

Time remains for any interested retail store or commissary to participate in the 2005 contest. It is as easy as building an attention-grabbing display featuring U.S. apples, apple products and the 2005 partner products: T. Marzetti Caramel Apple Dips and Apple Crisp, and U.S. peanuts and peanut products. Add a health theme for additional chances at winning. Combining all of these elements will enhance sales and provide extra judging points.

Today's consumers are busier than ever, so remember to advertise and promote the category and any special events that your store is featuring. Draw the customer into the store and to the apple display. At the display, include menu and meal suggestions to help boost overall store sales. Cross-merchandising ingredients can save customers valuable time, provide them with simple meal and snack ideas and increase impulse sales along with your register ring.

National Apple Month recommends merchandisers do a nine-point check for successful displays. o Keep the color scheme simple. Use brighter or contrasting apple varieties that provide colors in a specific area to draw attention.

" Have something extra to catch viewers' eyes. You must first get their attention in order to make the sale. Feature new or regional varieties, along with your best sellers. Use signage or create a picture with the apple display.

" Size matters. Keep visuals and graphics large and easy to read from a distance.

" Add interest with a contrasting shape or design within the display. If the basic shape is rectangular, a round or unusual shape can break the monotony.

" Use a combination of smooth and rough surfaces to add interest. Partner products provide the perfect solution with packages and peanuts. Apples are available in a multitude of packages; feature the tote bag, the poly-bag, loose apples and clamshell packages.

" Movement attracts the viewers' attention. Be certain to provide a safe venue for any moving elements.

" Simplicity sells. Convey only one major thought or idea about apples. Make copy brief. Over-worded exhibits require too much reading time. Ten seconds of reading is plenty.

" Ensure access. Make it easy for the hurried customer to grab and go.

" User-friendly displays. Make sure that some spaces show where bags or packages have been removed. A customer should not have to worry about taking the apples and spoiling the display.

Entry forms and contest details are available by contacting National Apple Month at 717/432-0090, or on-line at www.usapple.org/industry/applemonth/index.shtml.

(Kay Rentzel is director of National Apple Month.)