With national attention turned toward a childhood obesity epidemic and increased focus on providing more fruits and vegetables as snack options on school menus, Eastern apple shippers say there are some lessons to be learned, as well as profits to be earned.

“We’re big in the school program with pre-sliced apples and all the activities going on in the USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) and their apple purchasing,” said Jim Allen, president of the Fishers-based New York Apple Association.

“It puts fruits and vegetables in the schools. When that happens, apples are usually first on that list. So, it’s tremendous to include fruits and vegetables in the WIC (Special Supplemental Feeding Program for Women, Infants and Children) program, as well.”

Burt, N.Y.-based Sun Orchard Fruit Co. also has some involvement in directing apples to schools, said Tim Mansfield, sales and marketing director.

“Indirectly, we supply a lot of the processors and slicers,” he said.

“A lot of that is school business. We do supply some foodservice wholesalers that supply schools with the full apples. It’s there.”

And, the government likely will bring more apples into feeding programs in the future, Mansfield said.

“I think that will be an issue with the government focusing on health and health-related costs in the U.S., and will continue to be,” he said.

“They’re focusing on that, trying to change children’s eating habits early.”

That’s good for business in more than one way, he added.

“It’s going to create a whole new customer base that realizes the importance of eating fruits and vegetables every day,” he said.

“But that’s more of a long-term thing. It’s important. We get our little piece of it, but it’s long-term. It’s definitely a very positive thing.”

John Rice, president of Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co., said his company gets involved, to some degree.

“We deal with the USDA, and they have a competition program from which they purchase fresh apples, among other things,” Rice said.

“We generally deal with the USDA, rather than direct to the schools. We have about 10 or 12 loads that we’re going to send to the USDA.”

It’s not for everybody, though. Pat Ferrara, salesman with Milton, N.Y.-based Hudson River Fruit Distributors, said schools aren’t a revenue stream, even indirectly, for his company.

“Not really, because that all goes on the USDA bid,” he said.

“We’ve never actually fooled with that, but we are approved.”