Stemilt Growers offers the Rave apple as part of its proprietary and managed variety offerings. ( Courtesy Stemilt Growers
)

Washington’s apple industry is evolving as new varieties slowly supplant older, established cultivars, marketers say.

Many grower-shippers also have their own proprietary varieties on offer, said Mark Powers, president of the Yakima, Wash.-based Northwest Horticultural Council.

“Everybody’s trying to figure out how to move their particular varieties,” Powers said. 

Cosmic Crisp is a new variety that is steadily gaining ground, Powers said.

“Cosmic Crisp is one that’s a broader, across-the-industry new variety that has a lot of excellent potential behind it,” he said.

The Cosmic Crisp may enjoy rapid growth not seen since the Honeycrisp took off, said John Long, director of the Union Gap, Wash., division of Raleigh, N.C.-based L&M Cos. Inc. 

“I look for that to double in volume each year for the next five years,” he said. 

“Like Honeycrisp in the Northwest took 15-17 years to get to 10 million boxes, Cosmic Crisp is going to get there in about seven years.”

Proprietary varieties seem to pop up across Washington as a way to help a supplier stand out, Long said.

“It’s difficult in Washington because every warehouse, it seems, has their own propriety variety or two,” he said. “We probably have 15 or 20 of those varieties in the Northwest and trying to market them.”

L&M, for example, has had the Crimson Delight for about five years, Long said.

“We’re up to about 50 loads; while that’s not very many to (market nationally), we try to pick a region or area and promote them there,” he said. 

A specialty variety requires aggressive promotions — even in-store sampling — to make it known, Long said.

“It’s the same for all the varieties,” he said. “Now, there are a few like the Jazz that have established themselves, where they have a bigger supply and will be doing more nationwide promotions, where we’ll do regional.”

The apple category is changing, which creates a survival-of-the-fittest scenario in which some varieties will “go away,” Long said.

“We can’t sell 30 or 40 varieties,” he said.

More branded apples are appearing, said George Harter, vice president of marketing with Wenatchee, Wash.-based CMI Orchards.

“We are seeing more interest in branded apples,” he said, referring to Ambrosia, Kiku, Envy, Kanzi, Jazz, Pacific Rose and Smitten.  

Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers LLC started harvest of its Rave-branded apple Aug. 1, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.

“It’s the juiciest apple you’ll ever eat,” he said of the Rave, which is cross between Honeycrisp and MoNark, an Arkansas apple.

Stemilt also has the SweeTango and Piñata branded apples, Pepperl noted. 

“Both Rave and SweeTango were bred by the breeder David Bedford from the University of Minnesota, who found Honeycrisp, Pepperl said. “This makes these two apples royalty.”

Piñata is popular in late fall and winter and available year-round, Pepperl said.  

“It is great out of hand and has the advantage of being culinary favorite for baking and sautéing,” he said.

Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co. offers 10 “standard varieties,” plus Smitten and Cosmic Crisp, said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing.

“The release date for Cosmic Crisp this season will be Nov. 23 and is highly anticipated,” Sinks said.  

Sage has seen increasing interest in proprietary varieties, Sinks said.

“Some of the standard varieties are slowly making room for those new varieties — for example, you’ll see less acreage of golden delicious, jonagolds and braeburns than in years past,” he said. 

“However, most standard varieties still hold a place on the retail shelf — they’re what people know.”

For marketers, the best way to manage varieties is to carry what consumers want — their purchasing behavior dictates what Sage will provide will add to its mix, Sinks said.

“We also like to get our retailers to try our new varieties, test them in different locations, sample them, etc., to drive the consumers’ interest,” he said.

Bellevue, Wash.-based Pacificpro Inc. has partnered with nearly every Washington apple grower/shipper with promotable volume in all varieties, grades and sizes, said Marcus Hartmann, vice president of operations.

“Cosmic Crisp will likely continue to be the talk of the industry, but there are many other excellent varieties being produced in greater volume this season, including Smitten, Ambrosia, Envy, Jazz, Kanzi, Kiku, and Opal varieties, amongst countless others,” he said. 

 

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