Apples fit millennials’ values, Wal-Mart rep says

Dan Wheat/Capital Press Mike Hulett, a senior merchant for Wal-Mart stores, speaks at the Washington Tree Fruit Association annual meeting in Wenatchee, Wash., on Dec. 5. “Fresh food is the bull's-eye,” he said.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — Millennials are the largest part of the workforce now, so if stores want to sell fruit — or anything else — that segment needs to be considered, says Mike Hulett, senior merchant over orchard items for Wal-Mart stores.

Speaking at the Washington Tree Fruit Association annual meeting in Wenatchee on Dec. 5., Hulett showed a millennial song parody on YouTube to help the audience understand their carefree attitude. Millennials are Americans born between 1981 and 2000.

It drew laughs and while Hulett called it “hilarious,” he said millennials drive consumer trends, are into experience, are fair-minded and have their own consumer values that apples fit.

“When the recession hit, it impacted consumer trust. It changed the way people spend their money. It made consumers more aware of how food is made and it all adds up to trust,” Hulett said.

Millennials are for savvy spending but they value experience in their purchasing, he said. They see a responsibility in making a positive impact on their community reflected through the food they buy, he said.

“Global issues matter less and local issues matter more in their minds,” he said.

In the foodie culture where food is an experience, new apples should do well because millennials show their status by what they do, Hulett said. They like to try new things and share it on social media, so if your apple has consistent crisp quality they will share that, and if it doesn’t they will “tell it in even a more prolific way,” he said.

Some 70 percent of the apples Wal-Mart stores buy are Red Delicious followed by Granny Smith, Fuji and Gala, Hulett said.

“We are the largest buyer of Reds, but we are purposely taking that down,” he said. “Reds are doing better from SmartFresh (natural storage enhancer) but still not meeting the taste experience.”

Honeycrisp meets the taste test, Gala is falling off and club varieties like Opal, Envy, Ambrosia are where consumers are headed, he said. Washington’s new Cosmic Crisp apple should do well, he said.

Millennials also factor time, health and nutrition, food safety and authenticity in purchasing, he said.

Labeling and packaging are a great way of communicating, he said. Information about fruit can be shared on the outside of stand-up bags that doesn’t get transmitted in bulk bin displays, he said.

“Fresh food is the bull’s-eye,” Hulett said. “Nothing relates more than fresh and organic and local.”

Wal-Mart stores keep meat, produce and deli items fresh because fresh is what 87 percent of customers are looking for, he said. “We are investing tens of millions in updating our stores to make them feel fresh,” he said.

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