(Dec. 2) SELAH, Wash. — Tree Top Inc., a 2,000-member apple processing cooperative, recently increased shipments of its fresh-cut apple slices product for the foodservice market.

Tree Top stepped up production of the apples, which come in 2- and 12-ounce and 3-pound sealed bags, after it brought in former Washngton Apple Commission regional foodservice manager Ned Rawn to run the business. Rawn became Tree Top’s fresh slice business manager in May.

Introduction of the fresh slices has presented some challenges in packaging, shelf life and distribution, said Pat Moss, Tree Top’s corporate communications manager.

“We had been test-marketing the product long enough that we realized we needed someone to focus full attention on it,” she said.

The apples were introduced in limited test marketing in 2001.

“We have moved relatively slowly on this product,” Moss said. “We didn’t want our label on any type of product that we weren’t comfortable that could live up to our quality standards.”

The new packs are limited to foodservice customers that send trucks to Tree Top’s processing facility in Milton-Freewater, Ore.

Tree Top may distribute the product to grocery stores, Moss said.

“We will never close a door to opportunity, but our main thrust is foodservice,” she said.

The sliced apples come primarily from fujis and galas. Different varieties are used throughout the year to provide consistent eating quality and better shelf life, Moss said.

While the 2-ounce and 3-pound packs are the biggest sellers, Moss said Tree Top is considering other pack sizes.

The product is used primarily for snack or multipurpose sales, she said.

Passengers flying Alaska Airlines have sent e-mails to Tree Top about the snack they have been served on the airline.

“They’re telling us they were glad to have had the opportunity to have a healthy and good-for-you snack on their flight,” Moss said.

Tree Top isn’t planning to enter the fresh market with whole apples, Moss said, primarily because many of Tree Top’s grower-owners have their own fresh market labels.

Since 1960, Tree Top has been processing and marketing shelf-stable products.

Rawn was unavailable for comment.

He previously worked in sales and marketing for Crisp ‘N Spicy Growers Inc., Pateros, and Johnny Appleseed of Washington/CRO Fruit Co., Wenatchee. He was with the apple commission from 1998 to 2003.