Don Roper Discusses How Honeybear Brands is Combatting Competition with Upcoming Apple Crop
- by Jordan Okumura
ELGIN, MN - When I think of the items that anchor fresh produce departments, my mind often goes directly to apples. This staple category is currently being evolved by innovators in flavor, quality, and variety. So, it only made sense to go to one of our friends, Honeybear Brands, to check on the state of the North American apple market for the company, and check in on how it is faring in terms of supply and demand as well as opportunities.
“Currently, the national outlook is both positive and challenging as we will have a record crop size this year. There will be opportunities and there will be hurdles. If as a grower/packer you have the right mix of varieties and have stayed current with the consumer trends, you are in good shape. If you are relying on the varieties of the past, then there will be significant hurdles,” Don Roper, Vice President, Sales and Marketing, shares with me. “We have some great new varieties and overall, we are extremely focused on improving the flavor profile of the apple category and consumers are helping drive this change. As expectations around the eating experience progress, we are seeing the transitioning out of the older varieties speeding up."
Overall, the apple category has been flat to down the past several years and this year will be no exception, Don adds. Our industry is being challenged with some of the biggest competition coming from other commodities including citrus, berries, and grapes.
“We clearly can answer this challenge and we have the tools—like new great tasting varieties—to enhance and grow market share. Changing consumer buying behavior is very difficult to execute, but when they have had a chance to experience some of these great new varieties, we quickly see conversion and adoption taking place,” Don shares.
On the flip side, the cost of production has gone up for Honeybear, but as it goes, that is the cost of doing business these days across the apple growing industry and ag industry in general.
“One of the great ways for us and retailers to address the transition to newer varieties is to introduce the consumer to the new varieties through education in the produce department, signage, and samplings and tastings,” Don tells me. “Consumers want it all—great taste and good value, year-round. Discriminating shoppers are willing to spend more for Honeycrisp, for example, than a bargain variety, but understanding pricing thresholds are key. Millennials, of course, are the ‘experience generation,’ and make purchases they expect will provide exceptional eating experiences. The discriminating shopper is also willing and likely to try new varieties. Our objective is to protect the stellar reputation the Honeycrisp and other varieties like Pazazz have earned based on incredible flavor. We work really hard to make sure we never put an inferior tasting piece of fruit in the box that could dilute a consumer experience. Once you do that, you lose the customer—perhaps forever on that variety.”
So, I ask Don what some of the high points of the season have been and he tells me that Honeybear is responding to the demand of its customer partners and has expanded production capabilities in Washington State by nearly 40 percent this year—and again, with the right mix of fruit. The company has also completed a transition of a significant amount of traditional orchards into organic as demand in the segment increases.
Some additional hallmarks of the past season include the success of the Pazazz apple.
“We are fortunate to have Pazazz, a great late-season apple. It delivers great flavor from November through August and has that exceptional crunch. We have customers describing it as a fruit Jolly Rancher, and it eats great through summer,” Don expresses. “The biggest hit of the summer—to be expected—has been our Chilean Honeycrisp. We had a banner crop from Chile this year and combined with a significant amount of this being organic, we were really able to provide our retail partners with a strong competitive advantage—fresh crop flavor Honeycrisp all summer long.”
As we look to the fall, Don shares with me that the company will have a bigger rollout on Pazazz in the coming year, in response to its great reception.
“Additionally, we will have big Honeycrisp crop along with other key varietals,” Don says. “We are also rolling out the First Kiss—in limited volume—in the Midwest here in the next couple of weeks.”
On the horizon, Honeybear has several new varieties in development. One it is particularly excited about is a butter yellow apple with an absolute sensational flavor profile. It has a tropical taste with a hit of nuttiness in it and has exceptional pressure. It is very clean, pretty, and most importantly—a flavorful apple, Don notes.
Now, Honeybear is in search of a name that captures this unique apple cultivar. Suggestions, anyone?
As Honeybear Brands looks to help retailers get a nice firm slice of sales in the apple category, the company will continue to keep its ear to the ground and take the pulse of the consumer experience.
Keep checking back with AndNowUKnow as we keep you up to date on this “core” category and more.