(Jan. 19) SAN JUAN BAUTISTA, Calif. — The latest Earthbound Farm brand introduction could give consumers a good way to keep track of that apple a day in their quest for good health.

Natural Selection Foods LLC, which markets more than 150 organic products under the Earthbound Farm label, started shipping sleeves of organic apples Jan. 12.

Each sleeve holds five apples and has a recommended price point of $1.99, said Larry Hamwey, vice president of marketing. The product ships in cartons of 18 five-apple sleeves.

Buyers can expect to find the sleeves available under the Earthbound Farm label year round, Hamwey said. Each sleeve contains five of the same variety of apples, including red delicious, granny smith and gala. Seasonally, other varieties should be available as well, Hamwey said.

“These are incredibly easy to merchandise, they help retailers comply with good organic retail practices and they can help consumers offer an apple a day in a lunch box for the kids,” Hamwey said.

Natural Selection initially introduced the concept of sleeves of Earthbound Farm apples at October’s Produce Marketing Association convention in Orlando, and it went over well, Hamwey said.

“We got an incredible reaction from our customers,” he said. “They’re looking for ways to offer healthy, organic snacks. And conventional retailers don’t have to worry about cross contamination with conventional product because of the sleeves. And the sleeves make them easy to grab and put in a cart.”

The organic apples are the fourth product in the expanding Earthbound Farm line called Healthy Snacks for Healthy People.

According to the 2003 Whole Foods Market Organic Foods Trend Tracker, organic snacks are the fastest growing segment in the organic foods industry. The Earthbound Farm brand organic snack line combines the convenience of attractively packaged, pre-portioned snack size foods with the healthfulness of fresh organic produce, Hamwey said.

Other items in the line include organic raisins in six-packs of 1.5-ounce snack boxes, three-packs of organic carrot dippers with ranch dressing in 2.25-ounce servings and 10-count bags of 2-ounce mini-packs of organic mini-peeled carrots.