Hon­ey­crisp or Red De­li­cious?

No matter what brand of ap­ple you like, Amer­i­cans are crazy for this juicy fruit

USA TODAY International Edition - - MONEY - Zlati Meyer

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

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