Apple marketers see the Cosmic Crisp as not only a new star on the business horizon, but also as a variety with other-worldly profit potential.
The Cosmic Crisp WA 38 brand apple variety was developed by Washington State University and is a cross between enterprise and Honeycrisp varieties.
With many Washington growers having invested in Cosmic Crisp trees in recent years, more than 2 million boxes of the apples are expected to be in the market for the 2020 season.
Stores across the country had the first shipments of Cosmic Crisp well before Christmas.
The variety is currently grown only in Washington state.
“The Cosmic Crisp apple is a one-of-a-kind variety,” Kathryn Grandy, director of marketing for Proprietary Variety Management, the firm in charge of the launch of the variety, said in a news release.
“Our marketing campaign will build consumer awareness and demand to match the caliber of this high-value apple. We’re in a unique position to set the bar, and we have the industry and partner support to make it happen.”
Proprietary Variety Management has selected McDill Associates as the lead agency for the project.
Cosmic Crisp already is seen as a potential “game changer” among apple marketers.
“(The) Cosmic Crisp apple will delight consumers and redefine the apple category,” said Catherine Gipe-Stewart, communications manager with Yakima, Wash.-based grower-shipper Domex Superfresh Growers.
Consumer excitement about the new variety was quick and widespread, said Brianna Shales, communications manager with Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers LLC.
“Cosmic Crisp has created consumer buzz around apples in its first weeks on the market; it’s been fun to see unfold,” she said.
“We know it will be a short season this year for that apple, but the demand and excitement make it promising for the future.”
Cashmere, Wash.-based Crunch Pak capped “a great year” by marketing sliced Cosmic Crisp apples — the only company licensed to do so, said Tony Freytag, Crunch Pak’s CEO.
“We introduced new products to the market (in 2019), including our sliced pears, and our exclusive Cosmic Crisp sliced apples,” he said.
Cosmic Crisp also could provide a boost to the apple category in general, said Don Roper, vice president of sales and marketing for Honeybear Brands, an Elgin, Minn.-based company that grows apples in Brewster, Wash.
“I feel the Cosmic Crisp, and all of the hype behind it, is actually a really good thing for all of the new varietals, as it will get consumers coming back to the apple category and they will be more inclined to try many new apples — not just Cosmic,” he said.
“This tide will raise all ships and, hopefully, it accelerates the transition away from the declining old-flavored commodity varieties.”
Outside Washington, there are other new varieties getting attention, as well.
“When it comes to branded apples, there is intense competitive activity in the space,” said Brenda Briggs, vice president of sales and marketing with Gardners, Pa.-based Rice Fruit Co.
Rice markets Kiku-brand apples, Briggs noted.
“It is an internationally recognized brand, with a strong national following (in) the U.S.,” she said.
Rice Fruit also has offered locally grown Kiku apples since 2012, Briggs said, adding that the apples have “developed a strong following” in the Northeast/Mid-Atlantic regions.
“Thanks to favorable growing conditions from Mother Nature this fall, our size range is peaking between 64 and 88, and the characteristic ruby-red stripe is in full effect,” she said.
“With so many branded varieties vying for shelf space, the competition is fierce and the proof is all in the performance based on sales. In the past few years, Kiku has continued to climb the charts in the Nielsen data and we are focused on another successful year.”
Retailers have some tough choices to make, said Addie Pobst, organic integrity and logistics coordinator with Mount Vernon, Wash.-based Viva Tierra Organic Inc.
“We try to balance offering short-season or specialty varieties alongside consistent volumes of mainstay varieties such as fuji and gala,” Pobst said.
Among the retailers’ decisions is how much display space goes to which varieties, Pobst said.
“We are happy to work with retailers to provide background information on unusual varieties and the farmers who grow them that they can use in their in-store signage, social media promotions, or newsletters,” she said.
Even grower-shippers that offer Cosmic Crisp have other specialty varieties — and organics — to market, Domex’s Gipe-Stewart said.
She noted that, just in 2019:
- Honeycrisp put gala in its rearview mirror, ringing in nearly a billion dollars in sales.
- Organics lifted the category, representing 11% of apple dollar sales.
- Autumn Glory was the #1 apple in year-on-year dollar growth during Q1.
Further, Gipe-Stewart said Domex anticipates continued growth in its Autumn Glory-branded apple in 2020.
She also noted that “core varieties, such as gala, fuji, granny smith and red delicious represent 53% of apple dollars and Honeycrisp, 24% of apple sales.
“These five remain vital to apple sales,” she said.
However, she said “high-color and flavor varieties continue to be on the rise” and attract consumers to the apple category.
“Pink Lady, Autumn Glory, Ambrosia and others continue to perform well and add excitement to the category,” she said.
New varieties come in and take retail space from established cousins, but the older, commoditized apples adjust, said Ken Korson, apple category director with Traverse City, Mich.-based North Bay Produce.
“Space at retail is always a concern because there is new varieties coming out constantly, but many times, the market will correct itself just as reds and golds have been coming out for the last 10 years and being replace by more popular varieties,” he said.
“We can see the golden delicious are in good demand this year because many have been pulled out five years ago and reds are a little better because they have been coming out for years.”
Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing with Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co., agreed, noting that “most standard varieties still hold a place on the retail shelf — they’re what people know.”