The Michigan Apple Committee has a powerful new partner in its annual effort to get locally grown apples in Michigan hotels.


The Grand Rapids, Mich., branch of Houston-based foodservice giant Sysco Corp. will help distribute apples the week of Sept. 14 to the nearly 300 hotels and other lodging facilities that have agreed to promote Wolverine State apples, said Denise Donohue, executive director of the DeWitt-based committee.


Now in its fourth year, the “Check in to Michigan Apples” program has grown from about 190 participating lodging facilities in its inaugural year, Donohue said. Initially focused on conventions and bed and breakfasts, the program has branched out to include regular hotels, she said.


Through the program, lodging facilities receive a free basket full of Michigan apples — at least a dozen, but more depending on the size of the facility — to display at front desks, Donohue said. This year, ginger golds and galas will be the featured varieties.


After the basket runs out, hotels are encouraged to reorder Michigan apples from sources, like Sysco, whose contact information is supplied by the committee.


Along with the apples, the committee is distributing copies of the Michigan Farm Marketing & Agri-Tourism Association’s new Farm Market, U-Pick & Agri-Tourism directory to encourage hotel guests to sample local sources of Michigan apples and other products, Donohue said.


Donohue said the program is a win-win for growers, distributors and lodging facilities. Suppliers get the opportunity to generate new sales, once the free supply of apples runs out. And hotels get the chance to differentiate themselves.


From her own frequent travels, Donohue sees how generic the hotel experience can be.


“Every Holiday Inn Express is the same,” Donohue said. “With  this, hotels can quickly customize that experience. It gives them another way to promote their area.”


The participation of Sysco this year, Donohue said, shows that foodservice companies are following the lead of retail in promoting locally grown commodities.