Declining apple sales present a challenge for retail
- Typically apple sales peak in the fall season between late August and early October, even though they are available year-round. But this year apples dropped 5% in dollar sales and 8% in unit sales during the 52 weeks ending Sept. 15, according to Nielsen data reported by Food Navigator.
- Apples weren't the only fruit with softening sales over that 52-week period, Nielsen noted. Watermelon sales declined by 3.6%, bananas dropped by 3.4%, grapes were down by 3.2% and strawberries fell by 0.4%.
- However, Nielsen data also showed that apples labeled as free from preservatives saw a 71% rise in sales during the week ending Oct. 6, while sales of non-GMO apples were up 56% and organic apple sales increased by 5% during that period.
In what should be the best season for apples, there are several factors pushing sales down. Nielsen noted that smaller, snack-sized fruits, such as cherries and mandarin oranges, are growing in popularity. Apples can also be more expensive unless they're purchased on sale. For example, the Honeycrisp — the best-selling apple variety in the U.S. today — averages $2.85 per pound, and organic apples typically cost 40% more than conventionally grown ones. Those high prices can push consumers to other fruits and even different better-for-you snacks.
Shoppers are also faced with an increasing number of apple varieties in retail produce departments, and they may feel like there are just too many options to pick from. The marketing research firm said it tracks 45 different types of apples available to consumers, with seven of those responsible for more than $100 million in annual sales. In the past two years, stores have offered 11% more apple varieties, Nielsen said. The increase in those varieties of apples could leave consumers with too many choices and push them to fruit they are used to.
"With as many as seven different varieties of apples lining shelves on any given week, have stores over-extended apples and created the paradox of choice where consumers are overwhelmed by options and thus choose none of them? Sometimes more does not always equate [to] better," the firm's report said.
This mixed bag presents a challenge to retailers trying to effectively promote apple sales in their stores. If consumers in their stores are overwhelmed by the number of options, then limiting the types they sell could be a way to lift sales.
Another way to promote apples could be using more labels. Consumers want transparency and to see nutritional information, which would indicate more packaging and labeling to convey qualities such as fiber and vitamin and mineral content and genetic modification status. Nielsen noted that including more label claims could help boost apple sales since packaged produce makes up the majority of all produce sales. Apples tend to be an outlier in this area, the company said, because almost two-thirds of total sales are bought in bulk. But including more claims to consumers could be a way to improve growth.
However, offering apples in packaging won't work for all consumers because some shoppers like to hand-pick the amount and quality they plan to buy. To accommodate varying consumer styles and boost sales, retailers could increase signage and other outreach emphasizing the health benefits of apples. Consumers increasingly prefer heathy and natural foods, so advertising that could get more shoppers to pick up apples.
As retailers struggle to find new ways to surge apple sales, it could be time for other fruits to shine. More fruits are coming into the mainstream and smaller, snack-sized fruits are growing in popularity. Stores will likely be making decisions about what fruits to promote and apple sales will need to catch up to be prioritized on shelves in seasons to come.