Honeycrisp or Red Delicious?
No matter what brand of apple you like, Americans are crazy for this juicy fruit
Ask any American to name their favorite apple, and the answer is likely to come quickly and with capital letters. Maybe Granny Smith or Fuji. Perhaps a hipper Pink Lady or even a SnapDragon.
Pose the same question about, say, bananas and you might get a, “Um, yellow?” in response.
The lunchbox staple, as all-American as the pie that bears its name, is more than a simple fruit. It’s a marketing marvel, the result of a decades-long campaign to transform preferences with the goal of making money grow on trees.
Today, with various shades of red, green and yellow and different sizes and tastes that run from sugary sweet to puckery tart, apples have become the most heavily branded produce on Earth.
The turning point for apple branding was the debut of the Honeycrisp, which turns 20 years old this year. The variety created by the University of Minnesota’s acclaimed apple breeding program proved that the 99-cents-per-pound that most supermarkets didn’t exceed could be lifted and that the days of pricing as high as $3.99 a pound had arrived. Now, hipster apples such as the Sekaiichi sell for as much as $21 per pound.
“It’s not just that they charge more. It also encourages the sale of apples,” said Bob Killian, CEO of Chicago-based firm Killian Branding.
By giving each type of apple its own identity — or “story,” in branding jargon — consumers come to associate certain varieties with particular moods or foods, experts said. Crispy Long Island Duck with Gingered Gala Apple and Red Cabbage is one of the menu choices at The Modern, a two-Michelin-starred Manhattan restaurant. Panera Bread offers its Fuji Apple Salad with Chicken.
“You buy a Volvo over a Mustang. In the produce aisle ... you’re much more likely to make purchases from the items that are branded,” Killian said.
The U.S. is apple crazy, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s most recent data found. Americans consume, on average, 28 pounds annually — fresh, canned, dried, frozen and juiced — making it the nation’s most popular fruit. Apple production in the U.S. was 11.3 billion pounds last year, up from 9.1 billion pounds in 2007. That translated into close to $3.5 billion worth of apples in 2016, according to the U.S. Apple Association, a Falls Church, Va.-based trade group. Only China produces more.
Apple displays at supermarkets have morphed into islands that feature as many as a dozen varieties. That’s out of an estimated 7,000 types that exist on the planet, including heritage varieties and ones deemed not pretty enough for retail, such as the Knobbed Russet.
“You buy a Volvo over a Mustang. In the produce aisle ... you’re much more likely to make purchases from the items that are branded.”
Bob Killian CEO of Chicago-based firm Killian Branding