CHICAGO — Growth in the number of Hispanic consumers and an expansion in their earning power offers huge opportunity for the apple category.

That was a key point in a presentation by Sherry Frey, vice president of account services for Chicago-based Nielsen Perishables Groups, at the U.S. Apple Association Crop Outlook and Marketing Conference Aug. 21.

In a presentation called “How to win in a rapidly changing retail and consumer environment,” Frey reviewed the performance statistics of the apple category over the past year outlined possible paths to greater growth in the years ahead.

Reaching far beyond the U.S. Southwest, Hispanic population growth is growth is occurring throughout the country, Frey said. Cites in North Carolina, Georgia and Florida showing the fastest percentage rates of Hispanic growth from 2000 to 2013. The Hispanic share of the overall population will swell to 30% by 2050, up from 16% in 2010, she said. Hispanic spending power will equal $1.5 trillion in 2015, up 50% from 2010.

With 5% growth in the number of shopping trips by Hispanic shoppers to traditional grocery stores, Frey said here is an opportunity to boost apple sales in Hispanic-themed stores, she said.

The Hispanic population is scaling upward in income and becoming better educated, she said. About two in three Hispanics are U.S. born, and 75% in those under age 35 are U.S. born, she said.

“That’s a game-changer in terms of how we approach them,” she said.

Frey said capturing the female Hispanic shopper should be the top priority, since she will bring the rest of the family with her.

Hispanic women purchase above average amounts of fresh produce, fresh meat and prepared food, Frey said, and are increasingly focused on eating healthy.

The apple industry also should aim to boost the fruit’s appeal to lower income consumers, she said.

Educating low income consumers, including food stamp recipients, on the health benefits of fresh apples is one possible approach, she said.

Recent and future higher prices for fresh meat and fresh produce, partially linked to the drought in the West, are challenges to boost perishable spending among low-income shoppers, she said.

Targeting health conscious shoppers is a winning strategy for apples, she said, with Nielsen reporting 17% average annual unit growth for the fastest-growing healthy label claims.

Shoppers want to know the health benefits of foods, Frey said.

“There is a huge surge of interest in food as medicine,” she said.

Food as a weight management tool and protein in Greek yogurt are two hot trends, Frey said.

The industry has to “own” the apple’s health characteristics such as high fiber, and communicate what the fruit will do for the consumer.

Another potential growth strategy is to expand sales in new channels. Frey said retail statistics show apple shoppers under-spend at mass/super and club stores versus average fruit shopper, which means there is opportunity to expand apple sales in those formats, she said.