"Honey, I need my Nyquil."

One of the most widely used cold medications in America would never have seen the light of day had it not been for clever marketing — the same niche marketing approach California apples producers must uncover if their product is to achieve supermarket/consumer demand.

Dr. Roberta Cook, University of California, Davis Extension marketing economist, told producers at the recent Central California Apple Symposium that scientists developed in Nyquil one of the most effective over-the-counter medicines ever discovered.

The only problem was that it made people sleepy, and no one would buy a cold medicine that put them to sleep during the day. Thus was born Nyquil, the sleep producing medicine that you take before you go to bed at night. Vicks has parlayed Nyquil and later a bucketful of similar products into millions by positioning the product where it could succeed.

Brooks suggested doing the same thing with California apples, a commodity so unwanted in some circles that supermarkets keep imported apples on produce department shelves until Washington apples are available — completely ignoring the availability of California apples.

Washington is the 800-pound gorilla of U.S. apple marketing with almost 40 percent of the U.S. apple market. New York (12 percent), Michigan (11 percent), California (7 percent), Pennsylvania (5 percent) and all other states (27 percent) drag up the rear.

California advantages

California has a marketplace fit. It’s early, ahead of Washington. Combine that with a consistent supply of sustainable high quality apples, and California apples could carve out a profitable market niche. "Provide superior performance in the marketplace," she said.

"Stamp on the California box of apples ‘Meets Washington Apple Grade Standards’ Why not?" she said.

And, don’t apologize for California apples. So what if California Galas may not have the same red coloring as Washington apples. Market California Galas as a different, high quality Gala without so much red. Make California Gala apples attractive to the supermarket and consumer by making them different.

Washington apples are not in demand because they are simply from Washington. Marketing studies to determine what consumers want is what makes Washington apples the formidable market force they are.

California apple producers must understand the demographics of their markets. Base marketing strategies on facts, she said. She suggested using Washington Apple Commission category management studies to position California apples.

"If you are not playing the demographic game — profiling your consumers — you are not in the marketing game," she said.

Consumption high

It will be very difficult for California apples to grow via increased consumption because already apples at 50 pounds per capita in the U.S. are the largest among all fresh fruits.

"Apples have always been around for a long time, and there are a lot more products today than ever before," she said.

California is either the sole supplier or the majority supplier of a whole host of fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, apples are not one of them and California growers are not used to lagging behind.

That does not mean they cannot be a niche market force, but Brooks says growers, packers and marketers must create that niche with a different but consistent supply of high quality California apples.