SAMPLING APPLES FOUND HEALTHY FOR SALES

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Seattle-area supermarket operators are reaping produce sales increases while Washington state apple growers are tending to the supermarket aisles, in a sampling program sponsored by the Washington Apple Commission here.The growers are handing out apple slices and chatting to Seattle-area shoppers during weekend-long product demonstrations at the stores.What's more, two dozen teams

WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Seattle-area supermarket operators are reaping produce sales increases while Washington state apple growers are tending to the supermarket aisles, in a sampling program sponsored by the Washington Apple Commission here.

The growers are handing out apple slices and chatting to Seattle-area shoppers during weekend-long product demonstrations at the stores.

What's more, two dozen teams of growers will travel to Phoenix later this week to offer samples in stores operated by Smitty's Super Valu, according to Amy Hedeen, a consultant to the commission.

This season's activity kicked off last month at a dozen Thrifty Foods stores, where growers handed out apple slices to shoppers.

Besides Thrifty Foods, participating chains include Safeway, Quality Food Centers, Albertson's and independent members of the Thriftway Stores group. The samplings are scheduled to run through March.

Retailers must earn the demonstration programs, through apple promotions or advertising space that corresponds with the weekend that growers are in their stores, Hedeen said.

"It's a great program," said Tom Osborne, produce buyer for Thrifty Foods, based in Burlington, Wash.

"When we have tastings in our stores, we look for someone who has a passion for food. And the apple growers have a passion for apples," he said.

Dan Polansky, produce department team leader for Thrifty Food's Food Pavilion store in Smoky Point, Wash., estimated that he moved about five times the normal volume of Fujis, Galas and Braeburns during the weekend the growers were doing tastings in his store.

Bill Earnest, produce merchandising manager for Thriftway Stores in Seattle, said the 20 Thriftway independents who participated in the grower sampling program made it an all-out promotion.

Events included pressing apples for apple cider, handing out freshly dipped caramel apples and offering cheese and apple samples in the deli. Store employees got into the spirit by wearing hats that promoted Washington apples.

Compared with other apple promotions, Thriftway averaged four times as many apples sold during the weekend the growers were there, Earnest said.