Declining apple sales reflect the struggling performance of other types of fruit in the category, Nielsen noted.
Of the top 10 selling types of fruit, half saw dollar sales decline over the past 52 weeks: apples (-6.7%), grapes (-3.2%), bananas (-3.4%), watermelon (-3.6%), and strawberries (-0.4%).
Blueberries, avocado, and mandarin oranges all saw high single- to low double-digit dollar sales growth for the same period, according to Nielsen data.
“This decline in sales aligns with that of other whole fruits that are struggling relative to naturally snack-sized options like mandarins and cherries,” Nielsen said.
“But despite overall challenges in produce, it’s clear that category performance among various fruits has been a mixed bag.”
Prices and promotional strategies
The amount of apples purchased while on promotion has increased over the past several years suggesting that consumers have grown accustomed to paying a discounted price for apples.
“This could indicate that consumers are either motivated by promotions and are willing to switch the variety they buy once in store depending on what’s on sale, or they are trained to only purchase their favorite variety when it’s on sale,” Nielsen noted.
A second factor that may be contributing to softening sales of apples is the average price per pound and how much that amount varies by variety making the old adage of a ‘eating an apple a day’ a more costly habit than in the past.
“If a shopper’s variety of choice was the Honeycrisp apple, which is currently the most popular variety in the country and sells for an average of $2.85 per pound, the transaction could suddenly cost the shopper between $7-$8 for their apples,” Nielsen said.
“Similarly, the effect compounds when purchasing organic apples, which retail for an average of 40% higher price per pound than the conventional variety. Suddenly this makes apples a more expensive fruit option to the shopper.”
Too much variety?
Nielsen tracks 45 different varieties of apples available to US consumers with seven of them generating more than $100m in sales annually (Honeycrisp ranked as the highest selling apple type this past year).
In the past two years, new varieties of apples increased 11%. However, too many options could be impacting overall sales of apples as consumers may feel inundated with options.
“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 better,” Nielsen noted.
Better-for-you claims fuel growth
US consumers are seeking out more nutritional information and transparency resulting in a move away from bulk produce to more packaged items that communicate these attributes.
In fact, according to Nielsen sales data, packaged products now account for the majority of all produce sales.
A path back to growth for apples could be including more claims to consumers, Nielsen noted.
“Apple products touting claims have managed to buck the decline of sales experienced by the total category,” the company said.
In the week ended Oct. 6, 2018, apples have seen impressive sales growth where they claim to be organic (+5%), free from genetic modification (+56%), and free from preservatives (+71%).
“While a shift to packaged may not be the answer as people still like to choose the amount right for their household and hand-select the quality of apples, increasing signage and education around the health benefits of apples could go a long way to reinvigorating the category.”