What’s the best way to market apples at retail? Growers and shippers say there that question has a number of valid answers, none better than another.

“First of all, it’s a very highly profitable category for the retailer,” said Jim Allen, president of the Fishers-based New York Apple Association.

“It’s a real destination product. That’s the great news.”

Retailers eagerly promote the category, Allen said.

“We’re right there pushing with them, certainly, encouraging them with consumer research and data to reinforce how much they need apples in their retail outlet,” he said.

“We take an approach of trying to pull as much volume through the departments.”

In-store product samples are part of the association’s marketing strategy, Allen said.

“We do a lot of in-store demos and product promotion that target particular customers (that are) going to buy apples and convince them to buy ours,” he said.

“Through demos and sampling, we feel very strong that you put a fresh apple in the customer’s mouth at the point of sale, you’ll turn that into a sale. So, we do a lot of those.”

Regional advertising also is vigorous, Allen said.

The Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program also is active at retail, said Karin Rodriguez, executive director.

“We’re expecting it to move pretty briskly,” she said.

“In the past, we’ve provided ad support to them. We encourage them to promote through a display contest for apples. We do some sampling on some varieties we think need a little bit of help. We’ve done Honeycrisp in the last couple of years quite a bit because it’s a newer variety and a lot of people might be able to get to taste it.”

The program has a display contest in September and October, Rodriguez said.

Individual shippers also have their own retail marketing tools. Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co., for example, promotes the region and the company, said John Rice, president.

“Locally grown and grown by Rice Orchards is the primary marketing tool we use,” he said.

“That’s been working well for us, and that’s what we’re doing this year.”

In late July, Carlisle, Pa.-based Giant Food Stores, a division of Ahold USA, received the 2010-11 Apple Merchandiser of the Year Award from the National Apple Month program.

Nominated by apple industry members, Giant Carlisle won the honor for its exceptional level of merchandising support and promotional efforts for apples and apple products throughout the year.

“We take great pride in our merchandising, quality and presentation of the apple category, with a focus on our customers,” Jeff Beaulieu, Giant Carlisle’s vice president of sales and merchandising, said in late July in a news release.

“We have a very strong partnership with the best apple growers that supply the highest quality and outstanding variety of apples to our consumers.”

It takes a lot of work at all points of the supply chain to keep apples moving off of retail shelves, said David Benner, general manager of Fairfield, Pa.-based El Vista Orchards.

“Retailers can best market our apples, probably, by keeping consistent quality on the shelf, and that’s going to start with the grower-packer,” he said.

“You’ve got to grow it right and pack it right. You have to order timely and often. You don’t have to order every day, but twice a week.”

Tote bags are popular items in retail displays, several shippers said.

“I think it gives a more local appearance,” said John Lott, president of Bear Mountain Orchards Inc. in Aspers, Pa.

“You got to be careful with it because the fruit can fall out, but it’s more appealing. The totes really move.”

Regular space on ads is important, said Tommy Fitzgerald, president of Fitzgerald’s Orchards in Tyro, Va.

“The chains I deal with are pretty good about going on ad,” he said.

“What that does for us is the Western apples had taken the market, but this local-grown thing — the Western apples still are the biggest apple in the chain stores — but now there is more demand for locally grown product. We’re glad to see it.”