Marketing Apple Diversity

Project Overview

Project Type: Research and Education
Funds awarded in 2008: $121,200.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2012
Region: North Central
State: Ohio
Project Coordinator:
Dr. Diane Miller
OARDC/Ohio State University

Annual Reports


  • Fruits: apples, general tree fruits


  • Education and Training: demonstration, extension, participatory research
  • Farm Business Management: new enterprise development, cooperatives, marketing management, farm-to-institution, market study, value added
  • Pest Management: chemical control, genetic resistance
  • Production Systems: organic agriculture
  • Sustainable Communities: local and regional food systems

    Proposal abstract:

    An interesting new array of apple varieties, which are diverse in genetic traits (flavor, texture, disease-resistance) could be grown by Midwest fruit growers (organic, sustainable and conventional), with even more interesting diversity in the variety development pipeline. Growers are concerned however that the marketing of these varieties will be limited by consumer unfamiliarity with the variety names. In this project we will determine if consumers will purchase/select apples based upon labeling by fruit characteristics (such as mild-sweet; spicy-tart; predominately tart), production method (sustainable), and/ or growing area (locally grown), with or without variety name. If so, this knowledge will greatly facilitate introduction of new varieties, reduce pesticide use and allow an evolution to more adapted and interesting local varieties in the Midwest US. Consumers in this project will be college students (future customers), natural food market customers, and conventional grocery store customers. Outcomes will be grower and consumer awareness of new apple variety attributes and increased demand pulling increased production of environmentally friendly varieties. Results and updates will be presented to growers in the Midwest annually using a range of communication technologies, including the MOSES network. Evaluation will include surveys of attitude changes, number of farmers and consumers involved and their review of information, increased planting and marketing of new varieties. This project will also help determine new variety selection criteria for the apple breeding project, Midwest Apple Improvement Association (MAIA), a regional not-for-profit, with which FGMA is involved, and a multi-state board of MAIA members will advise and oversee the project.

    Project objectives from proposal:

    Year 1: November 2008 - October 2009

    Establish protocol/working relationships with Ohio State University Food and Beverage Operations, Whole Foods, and Heinen’s to offer an array of new apple varieties into their fresh fruit offerings, prepare educational information, and ensure scientifically valid surveys and data collection techniques; conduct initial surveys and tastings; and test methods on a small-scale.
    Grower-based activity:
    1) Pre-test on attitudes toward project.
    2) Brainstorming of ideas for university food service, natural foods and grocery store marketing strategies for disease-resistant varieties through networking of growers, marketers and consumers
    3) Survey of awareness/knowledge of disease-resistant varieties/production practices.
    4) Grower-led roundtable of experiences with quality, production and storage aspects of disease-resistant varieties.
    5) Educational sessions on minimized fungicide application management strategies in disease-resistant apple varieties.

    6) Commitment to minimized fungicide application in disease-resistant trees, observations during growing/storage season on varieties, and dedication of sufficient volume of fruit to this project.

    Marketing-based activity:
    1) Pre-test managers at University food service, Whole Foods and Heinen’s to access attitudes and awareness of/toward disease-resistant apple varieties and products, and “locally-grown” and “sustainably-grown” parameters, pricing and labeling (minimum target number = 5 within each category).
    2) Educate in-depth, display and provide tasting of varieties to produce managers and obtain qualitative and quantitative feedback on their reactions and their perception of consumer reactions to the products (minimum target number = 20).
    3) Interactive session at Fruit Growers Marketing Association annual meeting between marketers and growers discussing market-based possibilities and limitations, focusing on value of informational labeling.
    4) Plan exact logistics of year 2 fruit offerings.

    Consumer-based activity:
    1) Pre-test consumers targeted by each marketing activity listed above for attitudes toward, and awareness of, disease-resistant apples and “locally-grown” and “sustainably-grown” concepts and perceived importance of labeling information in selection/purchasing decision (minimum target number = 100 thorough responses per marketing category; more as possible).
    2) In cooperation with market managers, conduct consumer taste tests, labeling and production preference and pricing surveys (target number = 50 -100 consumers/tasting; 6 –10 tastings total).

    Additional Research-based activity:
    1) Conduct professional taste panel analysis of disease-resistant varieties to document characteristics of the varieties. This information will be correlated with data from consumer taste test preferences to begin to profile critical and desirable traits. These traits will be selection criteria for new varieties released by the Midwest Apple Improvement Association.

    Additional Extension-based activity:
    1) Ensure widespread awareness of project in Midwest grower/marketer channels by articles in produce magazines (and web) (target number = 4); and ensure FGMA member interaction with Upper Midwest Organic Tree Fruit Growers Network (target = 25 Ohio new members to list-serve).

    YEAR 2: NOVEMBER 2009 – OCTOBER 2010

    Offer fruit with a range of fruit characteristics/growing information in college food service, natural food and grocery markets, monitor purchasing/selection decisions, and collect survey data from growers, produce buyers, students and/or customers. Determine what is important in selection/purchasing decisions.

    Grower-based activity:
    1) Interactive session at Ohio Produce Growers and Marketers Association (OPGMA) featuring summary of survey results from marketers and consumers and roundtable discussion of implications.
    2) FGMA Board of Directors in-depth discussions of survey results and implications for directional shift in variety offerings, emphasizing keys in fruit qualities and labeling.
    3) FGMA grower production practice adaptation to meet product development needs, including disease-management practices and tree planting volumes or variety decisions.

    Marketing-based activity:
    1) FGMA collaboration with college food service, natural food and grocery marketers to test varieties for quality, labeling, packaging and pricing attributes.
    2) Iterative improvement in offerings based upon marketer/consumer direct feedback.
    3) Continue marketer education about diversity of varieties and labeling possibilities.

    Consumer-based activity:
    1) Monitor purchasing/selection choices.
    2) FGMA direct survey and interviews with consumers to access consumer expectations and satisfaction with varieties and/or labeling.
    3) Iterative improvement in offerings/labeling based upon consumer direct feedback.
    3) Continue consumer education about disease-resistant apples, locally-grown and sustainably-grown by direct interaction and point of purchase information.

    Additional Research-based activity: 1) To be determined as project unfolds.
    Additional Extension-based activity: 1) Information sharing will be emphasized. The most appropriate methods and audiences will be determined as the project unfolds. It is desired that extension activities reach beyond current growers, marketers and consumers to potential growers, marketers and new customers.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.