Virginia Apple Growers Hopeful for Happy Meals

McDonald’s has responded to customers’ desire for more healthy choices on their menu, particularly with kids meals. By 2012, the fast food giant will begin including apple slices in every Happy Meal.

The U.S. apple industry is hopeful that this development will boost demand for apples. According to the New York Apple Association (NYAA), McDonald’s sold 220 million Happy Meals in the United States last year.

“This is a win for the apple industry, because obviously the need for sliced apples will be greater next year,” said Spencer Neale, a commodity marketing specialist for Virginia Farm Bureau Federation. “It’s also a win for children. Sliced apples are convenient, so children are more likely to eat them. This is a great way to get children to eat more fruit, and it is a way for children who may not have access to fresh foods to enjoy an apple with their Happy Meal.”

NYAA said McDonald’s currently uses Gala and Empire apple varieties; both are grown in Virginia.

A benefit of using apples for processed products like applesauce or pre-packaged slices is that appearance doesn’t matter as much, and growers and packers have a choice of what they want to do with their product, Neale said.

“If a grower has a lot of apples that are fine taste-wise but may not be cosmetically perfect, they can sell them to a wholesaler that makes applesauce or sliced apples,” he said.

“Sliced apples are great, because it’s something that growers can turn to other than applesauce, and hopefully more Virginia growers will get involved with the apple slices.”

After a slight recession-related decline, prepared apple sales are on the rise, increasing 33 percent in the past five years, from $43 million in 2006 to $57.2 million in 2010.

Virginia ranks sixth out of 32 states that produce apples. About 8 to 10 million bushels of apples are produced annually by Virginia growers for markets in 15 states and more than 20 countries.

via Virginia Farm Bureau