Whether apples are sold at retail in bulk or bags often depends on customer needs or even the region in which they’re sold, marketing agents say.

Bulk remains the preferred category, they say.

“About 70% of apples are sold in bulk and 30% bagged,” said Suzanne Wolter, marketing director for Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co. “The percentage adjusts between various U.S. regions. Well-signed displays with variety information provides consumers with the information they need to select from the multiple varieties.”

Execution at store level often drives customer choices, Wolter said.

“Display size, position within the department and having the right assortment,” she said. “Pricing, promotion and space decisions become much more important as varietal selection expands. Uniformity of the display, color breaks and consistent quality are critical components of a successful apple program.”

Kevin Steiner, marketing director with Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co. LLC, said 70% may be a low estimate of bulk sales. Steiner said they often approach 80%.

“It seems it’s been the numbers we’ve seen the last four or five years,” he said.

The reasons are varied and benefit both sellers and buyers, Steiner said.

“I think the margins are a little better, and I think that people don’t necessarily want a whole bag of apples at one time,” he said. “They just want to pick up a few of each variety; they don’t necessarily want 3 or 5 pounds of one variety. Especially with the mix that’s out there, you can see the amount of space that the bulk varieties command is quite a bit larger than the bag space.”

Bulk displays can be visually compelling, said Karin Rodriguez, executive director of the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Program, Harrisburg.

“With your bulk displays, we tell retailers to make sure the apples look nice,” Rodriguez said. “First and foremost, they shouldn’t be bruised. It’s nice to alternate the different colors of apples so they all stand out and they look very nice together.”

Bagged displays require a lot of maintenance, as well, she added.

“With bagged, of course, we like them to be laid out nicely with the varieties clearly visible,” she said.

Tote bags also are popular among consumers, Rodriguez noted.

“People love those and the ability to get that bag that looked like it came from the farmers market,” she said. “They also have the ability to add a couple or take a few out.”

Maria Brous, spokeswoman for Lakeland, Fla.-based retail chain Publix Super Markets Inc., said bulk and bag displays play important roles in the company’s apple merchandising strategy.

“Both are important to our customers, so both are merchandised in our stores equally,” she said.

Each has its own advantages, Brous said.

“The advantages varies from year to year,” she said. “Since smaller fruit are typically used for bags, a crop producing an abundance of smaller fruit will create opportunity for lower cost, thus more opportunities to promote the bags. And likewise, if the crop is producing more larger fruit, bulk ads would be more prevalent.”

If the product is diverse and fresh, it sells, Brous added.

“The number (of varieties a typical store carries) varies through the season as varieties come and go,” she said. “We don’t focus on a number but rather the varieties that our customers are looking for.”

Store demonstrations often are effective marketing tools on the produce department floor, Brous said.

“Anytime a customer has the opportunity to try a delicious tasting apple, you’re probably going to sell them apples,” she said.