It has been six years since Wenatchee, Wash.-based Columbia Fruit Packers Inc. acquired exclusive rights to grow and market Kiku apples in North America.
But planting, growing, and marketing a new variety takes years. Now sister company Columbia Marketing International, in its fourth year of handling domestic sales of the sweet, ruby red variety, is making a push to promote the product.
“We have more volume, so we’re able to get wider distribution,” said Bob Mast, vice president of marketing. “We’re doing promotions with key retailers to help draw attention.”
CMI is following a similar marketing plan with Ambrosia, which it has been marketing for seven years.
“They’re both gaining steam and consumer awareness,” Mast said. CMI plans to pack about 500,000 boxes of Ambrosia and more than 100,000 Kiku boxes this year.
CMI will try to build on that with shippers that contain five Euro cartons of either variety as well as tote bags printed with information about the varieties’ origins and attributes.
In addition to the tote bags, Mast said CMI will offer retailers 2-pound poly bags for both varieties that have handles and stiff, rigid properties that allow them to stand up.
CMI isn’t the only Washington company hoping one of its varieties will be the next big thing.
Autumn Glory, a cross between fuji and golden delicious, has characteristics of both — sweet and crunchy with a hint of spice, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash.
“Because it’s a later variety, we haven’t been able to sample it at PMA until this year,” Queen said.
He said Domex will have a free-standing display for Autumn Glory this season designed to display two Euro boxes with a quick-response code that will lead consumers to a dedicated website that will educate them on the variety, its flavor and how it’s grown.
Meanwhile, Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers LLC is putting a lot of its promotional efforts into Piñata, communications director Brianna Shales said.
“We are cautious about bringing too many apples to market too quickly as the shelf space and consumer awareness is hard to earn,” Shales said. “Piñata has now hit stride and has a good consumer following.”
Shales said Stemilt plans to increase its Pinata acreage.
Stemilt still has high hopes for SweeTango — a cross of Honeycrisp and Zestar that was announced to much fanfare in 2008. Shales said Stemilt still has limited volume of the relatively new variety, and the company only ships it on the West Coast because it shares North American rights with three other companies.