BelleHarvest Sales Inc. hopes to compete with snack foods by offering superior-eating fruit like Smitten brand apples, says Chris Sandwick, vice president of sales and marketing. ( Photo courtesy BelleHarvest Sales Inc. )

While gala, Honeycrisp, fuji and jonagold are some of the most familiar apple varieties grown in Michigan, growers tend to have at least a few others they like, many of which may be on their way to becoming consumer favorites.

Traverse City, Mich.-based North Bay Produce, for example, started picking the Vestar variety Aug. 22 for the fourth year in a row, said Ken Korson, apple category manager.

Vestar is a sweet-tart variety that fills a need for people who are “hungry for early apples,” Korson said.

It’s available during a narrow, three- to four-week window.

“People like the early apple because they haven’t had a new-crop apple for a while,” he said.

It does well at farmers markets, and several retailers have asked about it even though it’s a newer variety, he said.

BelleHarvest Sales Inc., Belding, Mich., believes in producing healthful fruit to compete with the snack food category, said Chris Sandwick, vice president of sales and marketing.

“We’ve got to make sure we’re dialing up our game and growing the right stuff,” he said.

For BelleHarvest, the right stuff includes the Smitten variety, which originally was bred in New Zealand but now is starting to ramp up in the U.S.

Smitten is an early, crunchy, sweet, superior-eating apple that comes out at the front of the apple season in early September, he said.

It captures the excitement of fall because it’s an apple that is “early and superlative,” he said.

Until now, Smitten only has been available in the fall, since it’s a new variety and production remains limited.

As trees mature, it should be available through the holidays, Sandwick said.

During the summer, BelleHarvest imports the Smitten from New Zealand, where it already is a mature variety.

Glei’s Inc., Hillsdale, Mich., grows all the major varieties plus a few others, like northern spy, said Damon Glei, president and owner.

Northern spy, which is sold mostly to retailers, is “a great cooking apple” that is especially popular among an older generation who use it for making pies.

Green with a pink cheek, “It’s kind of an ugly apple,” Glei said.

But it cooks well and holds it shape.

The company also offers the cortland, a red, East Coast variety that often is used in apple salads.

And Glei’s has a few of the Rubin variety — a red European apple that he expects to start shipping next year.

A number of Michigan growers have planted the EverCrisp variety.

BelleHarvest picks them in October but tucks them away until January or February, Sandwick said.

“It’s a wonderful storage apple,” he said, and “a nice eating apple for those winter months.”

EverCrisp is very hard and has a juicy crunch with a high sugar content, he added.

Another variety called Topaz has built up its own cult following, Sandwick said.

“It is a super, vibrantly acidic apple,” he said. 

It’s a pale yellow overlaid with a ruby and orange blush. It’s available from mid-fall through the winter.

“There are certain people who want to move away from the sweetness of our category and who have really embraced the acidity that Topaz brings, Sandwick said.

Though new-crop apples tend to have a certain appeal to consumers, others, like fuji, actually gain flavor in storage, Glei added.

Galas’ best flavor is within two months after it’s picked, he said

There are ways to keep gala crisp with reasonably good flavor, he said. 

“But it’s just not quite as flavorful, no matter where it’s grown, six months later or 10 months later, as it is shortly after harvest.”