WENATCHEE, Wash. — Apple consumption in the U.S. and Europe is static or declining as volume and varietal offerings increase and more competition comes from berries and other fruits, says Todd Fryhover, president of Washington Apple Commission.

In an Oct. 1 column in Good Fruit Grower magazine, Fryhover said that was the takeaway from his August trips to Prognosfruit, a tree fruit conference in Belgium, and the U.S. Apple Outlook conference in Chicago.

“One specific topic resonated at both venues loud and clear: There is consumer confusion with too many varieties at retail," he wrote. "Secondly, in both regions, the apple category is underperforming, giving way to berries, citrus and other more profitable alternatives.”

Table grapes and mandarins have been cited as increasing competition for apples in the U.S. by Brian Focht, manager of the Washington Apple Marketing Association.

Fryhover touched on trade tensions and other challenges, but said Washington alone has more than 25 proprietary apple varieties. New York has two.

That’s on top of many open varieties such as Gala, Honeycrisp, Red Delicious, Fuji and Granny Smith.

Kroger Co. in the U.S. and REWE Group in Europe say consumers are confused by the overwhelming number of variety offerings, Fryhover wrote.

REWE Group reduced apple SKUs (stock keeping units) from 24 to 16 with just two packaging alternatives per variety and found sales increased, he said.

Overproduction abounds in Europe with new plantings in Serbia, Moldova, Turkey, Russia and Ukraine, he wrote. EU producers are concerned about this Eastern European increase, he wrote.

U.S. apple consumption has dropped 11% over five years, a Kroger representative said at the Chicago conference.

Kroger and REWE said older apple varieties are not being removed quickly enough, that newer proprietary varieties are not providing expected returns and new diets are turning younger consumers away from fresh fruits and vegetables.

Fryhover said the industry needs to eliminate poorer-eating apples, support innovative compostable and recyclable packaging and listen to retailers.

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