Sliced apples

What sliced apples can teach you about consumer research and innovation

By Tina Irgang

Apple consumption has risen dramatically over the past decade, after years of stagnation. Why? It turns out, according to a study by Cornell University economists, that kids prefer their apples sliced.

In 2013, the Cornell researchers, affiliated with the university’s Food and Brand Lab, decided to find out why so many apples served as part of the National School Lunch Program ended up being thrown away. The reason, they thought, wasn’t so much that kids didn’t like the fruit — they just didn’t want to, or couldn’t, eat the apple whole.

“A pilot study conducted at eight schools found that fruit consumption jumped by more than 60 percent when apples were served sliced,” according to The Washington Post, which first reported this story. A more recent follow-up study at six schools found an even stronger correlation.

The two studies actually come on the heels of what is already a growing trend. “In 2014, Americans ate 511 million fresh sliced apples, a growth of about 350 percent from a decade earlier,” reports Fortune. “Between 2010 and 2013, overall apple consumption grew by 13 percent.”

So it would seem that the overall increase in apple consumption is being driven mostly by sliced apples already. But if schools still tend to serve their apples whole, what is causing that increase in sliced-apple consumption? In a word, McDonald’s.

The fast-food giant noticed as early as 2004 that sliced apples were growing in popularity, and began offering them as an option. Then, in 2012, they started being served with every Happy Meal, and “the impact has been enormous,” according to The Washington Post: “In 2015 alone, the company served almost 250 million packages of sliced apples, which amounts to just over 60 million apples, or more than 10 percent of all fresh sliced apples sold in the United States.”

What business lessons do apples hold?

So how does this apply to your business, especially product development?

As one of the Cornell researchers sums it up in The Washington Post, the results of the university’s studies show that “what seems like a small inconvenience actually makes a huge difference” to consumers.

For you, this means it’s time to think about what might be influencing the convenience of consuming your product. Is there something specific about your consumer population that might make them less likely to accept your product in its current form?

After all, it doesn’t seem that inconvenient to eat a whole apple, on the face of it. That’s until you consider that young children have missing teeth and braces to contend with.

Also keep in mind that if you believe your consumers no longer want a product, you might not need to abandon it completely. Sometimes, it’s easier to slice the apples than start selling oranges.

 Tina Irgang is the production editor for SmartCEO. Contact her at tina@smartceo.com.