(Aug. 13) In the Northwest, they grow apples big. In the Northeast, they grow ‘em small.

Which do consumers prefer? At least to people on the East Coast, where stores stock Washington apples as well as local product from the likes of New York and Pennsylvania, smaller is better.

About 59% of those polled in New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Virginia usually buy 100-113 count apples, and just 14% usually buy the bigger 72-80s, according to market research commissioned by the New York Apple Association, Fishers, and the Pennsylvania Apple Marketing Board, Harrisburg, and conducted by Marketing Decisions Group Inc., Buffalo, N.Y.

Those numbers are music to the ears of Northeast grower-shippers and marketers.

“We grow an awful lot of 100s and not a lot of 72-80s,” said David McClurg, the New York association’s vice president of marketing. “We were pleasantly surprised. I knew the percentage was big, but I didn’t know it was that big.”

New York ranks second in U.S. apple production and Pennsylvania fifth.

Of course, only four states were polled, and McClurg was willing to admit that people in other parts of the country may prefer bigger apples. But the New York/Pennsylvania study is in stark contrast to the message Washington marketers have been pushing for years: the bigger the apple, the better.

That marketing brawn has been successful — bigger apples do dominate in supermarkets — but it doesn’t reflect what consumers actually want, said Diana Aguilar, executive director of the Pennsylvania board.

“The truth is not what you see at retail,” Aguilar said. “When people eat an apple for a snack, they don’t want a jumbo — if they don’t eat it all, they feel like they’re wasting it, and if they do eat it all, they feel stuffed.”

Snacking, the survey found, is the overwhelming top use for apples.

About 98% of Eastern consumers polled buy them primarily for between-meal nibbling. About 54% buy them for lunches, and 40% bake them. While smaller apples are the big favorite for snacking and lunching, the survey found that consumers prefer bigger ones for baking.

McClurg said the Washington marketing juggernaut has closed many retailers’ minds.

“There are retailers out there who won’t even talk to you if you don’t have 72s and 80s,” McClurg said. “This study allows us to come to the table and say, ‘Look, this is what consumers want.’”

Welcome Sauer, former president of the Washington Apple Commission, Wenatchee, and now a consultant for Chelan Fresh Marketing., Chelan, Wash., agrees that promotion and merchandising have had a lot to do with the success of big Washington apples.

But he disputes the notion that apple retailers are out of touch with consumers.

“Retailers are close to the market, and they know their consumers well,” Sauer said. “Smaller apples are a very strong niche market, but by and large, the 72-88s are the ones in heaviest demand.”

The New York/Pennsylvania survey also found that consumers pick apples on taste, crispness and color, in that order; buy apples at least once a week; and buy most of their apples at supermarkets.

The joint sponsorship of the survey indicates a desire by the New York and Pennsylvania apple industries to join forces to promote an “Eastern” product, Aguilar said.

Apple growers in the Northeast have no desire to do battle with the Goliath across the country, she said — they just want their collective voice to be heard.