Washington apple growers – and their trading partners – are hopeful that Christmas will arrive several weeks earlier than usual for them this year.
Dec. 1 is when is the highly anticipated Cosmic Crisp apple variety is scheduled to debut, and growers and retailers hope that consumers will be as eager to buy it as suppliers are to sell it.
The cross between the Honeycrisp and Enterprise cultivars has been in the works since 1997, said Kate Evans, horticulture professor and head of the breeding program at Washington State University.
The first trees were planted commercially in 2017, and the first harvest could produce up to 500,000 40-pound carton equivalents, she said.
About 260 Washington growers have been licensed to grow the variety, said Kathryn Grandy, director of marketing for Proprietary Variety Management, Yakima, Wash.
Production is expected to reach 2.2 million boxes in 2020 and 5.6 million in 2021, she said.
Eventually, Cosmic Crisp should be available year-round.
“It’s an unprecedented scale of release in terms of how many trees have gone in the ground so quickly,” Evans said.
Those who have seen and tasted it are impressed.
“It’s a super-crisp, juicy apple with a good flavor profile, good levels of sugar and a nice (apple-like) tang or acidic kick that gives it that apple-eating experience that a lot of people like,” Evans said.
Cosmic Crisp is part of a plethora of proprietary apples and “club varieties” that are turning up on produce shelves.
“There’s a lot of exclusivity nowadays with varieties,” said Bill Dodd, president of the Oberland, Ohio-based Midwest Apple Improvement Association. “It’s been trending toward that for quite a few years.”
Dodd said Ludacrisp, a crisp, juicy conical apple with a “21st century texture,” now is being marketed to growers and should be available commercially in three to five years.
Some growers look to create a special appeal by creating their own signature varieties.
One that Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, Wash., has come up with is Rave, which communications manager Brianna Shales described as “an outrageously juicy apple with Honeycrisp parentage.”
It kicks off the new crop in late July.
Stemilt also is part of the growers cooperative that markets SweeTango apples, another Honeycrisp successor.
“It’s a phenomenal apple that has gained a great fan following in all areas thanks to its sweet, tangy flavor and Honeycrisp bite,” she said.
And Stemilt’s Pinata is unique because of its heirloom heritage, Shales said.
It’s shipped in a high-graphic tropical-themed box because of its tropical flavor finish that she said resembles a pineapple.
“Retailers have a lot of fun promoting the tropical flavor of the apple in displays,” she said.
At Chelan Fresh in Chelan, Wash., marketing director Mac Riggan was looking forward to the company’s third commercial crop of SugarBee, a bicolor, open-cross Honeycrisp apple with “amazing snap and flavor.”
The Rockit variety, “a really good snack apple” that appeals to kids and senior citizens alike, is “really gaining a lot of traction everywhere that we’re putting it,” he said.
And Dazzle should be available from New Zealand by 2021, he said.
It’s a crisp, sweet, bicolor apple with a slightly different taste than the SugarBee.
Chelan Fresh also will have its red-flesh varieties Lucy Glo and Lucy Rose this season.
At Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash, Andy Tudor, vice president of business development, said its bicolor Lady Alice is a “perfectly balanced apple with the right flavor profile.”
“We continue to transition more of that acreage over to organic,” he said.
This will be the third season Yakima-based Domex Superfresh Growers will be promoting its proprietary Autumn Glory, said Mike Preacher, director of marketing.
The bicolor apple – yellow background with a red blush – stands out on the shelf and has “unique flavor notes,” such as hints of caramel, cinnamon and spice, he said.
The variety, which has experienced significant sales growth, will start harvesting in early October, Preacher said.
Crunch Time Apple Growers, Lockport, N.Y., offers two popular managed varieties — SnapDragon and RubyFrost – developed by Cornell University and grown exclusively in New York by Crunch Time.
The new SnapDragon season should get underway in late September, and the RubyFrost should start in November, said Sara Wells, marketing generalist.
Whether they’re producing mainstream, club or proprietary varieties, apple growers always have one objective in mind, said Dodd of the Midwest Apple Improvement Association.
“Our main goal is to make them so good that we increase per capita consumption,” he said. “That’s the holy grail for everybody.”