( Crunch Time Apple Growers )

Whether through club varieties like New York's SnapDragon and RubyFrost or more-established commercial entries like Honeycrisp, gala, ginger gold and fuji, Eastern apple growers say they have apple flavors to match any consumer preference.

"One of the big news stories coming out of the New York state apple industry is our new variety innovation," said Jim Allen, president and CEO of the New York Apple Association.

"Our growers have been aggressively planting more of the varieties that consumers want these days. Gala and Honeycrisp love our growing climate, as do the old favorites mcintosh and empire."

Cornell University's SnapDragon and RubyFrost have hit the market only in the past couple of years and are still building their own followings, Allen said.

"Cornell's apple breeding program is focused on producing new varieties that will thrive in our climate," Allen said.

Wolcott, N.Y.-based Crunch Time Apple Growers - formerly the New York Apple Growers - markets the two Cornell varieties.

"There's a lot of excitement about our brands and how they've been received," said Mark Russell, grower, vice chairman of the board and chairman of the marketing committee with Crunch Time. "Growers are happy with returns."

Crunch Time is now in "phase 2" of new acreage for the two club varieties, Russell said.

"(Members) replied overwhelmingly with a wish to expand their varietal plantings and that was good to hear," he said.

Total acreage of new varieties is about 550 in SnapDragon and 400 in RubyFrost, Russell said.

"We encouraged growers to grow it all over the state," he said.

Wolcott-based Fowler Farms is involved with the RubyFrost and SnapDragon programs, said Dave Williams, vice president of sales and marketing.

"I think it's continuing to grow," he said. "Part of that is as more volume comes on and yields are better."

Burt, N.Y.-based Sun Orchard Fruit Co. markets another new variety, the Pazazz, in conjunction with Elgin, Minn.-based Honeybear Brands, said Tim Mansfield, sales and marketing director.

"It's a great apple, keeps its flavor late in the season," he said.

Sun Orchard anticipates a Pazazz season running from December through July, after a harvest in early October.

"It needs to sit a month or so, it has so much acid," he said. "It's like a wine - you let things come into balance."

The emergence of club varieties is indicative of an "evolving consumer palette," said Mark Nicholson, executive vice president of Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, N.Y.

"You're seeing in the Northeast a great decline in the old varieties as new varieties take up more tight shelf space," he said.

New varieties require a significant investment, said John Teeple, owner of Teeple Farms, Wolcott.

"From a grower's standpoint, the cost to replant orchards is tremendous, and we're losing a lot of old varieties to the newer ones," he said.

Pennsylvania also is suited to many apple varieties, said John Rice, president of Rice Fruit Co. in Gardners, Pa.

"That is because our micro-climate is uniquely suited to grow apples that are normally grown in very different climate zones, from Honeycrisp to Pink Ladies," he said.

Rice Fruit grows Honeycrisp, gala and fuji.

"We even have a Honeycrisp apple that ripens three weeks ahead of the original - it is called a Premier Honeycrisp, and we think it has a great future," Rice said.

Rice Fruit also is licensed to grow and pack the Kiku-branded apple by Columbia Marketing International in Wenatchee, Wash., Rice said.

Fairfield, Pa. is working with the Evercrisp variety, said David Benner, general manager.

"That's a variety that's a cross between fuji and Honeycrisp," he said.

The company planted 5 acres of Evercrisp in March, he said.

"There's a trial-and-error period for every grower as to what will work in your soils and climates and topography," he said.

Some growers take a wait-and-see attitude about new varieties.

"My brother, Mark, is a conservative - he didn't plant a gala tree when everyone else was planting," said Jack Bream, owner of Orrtanna, Pa.-based Bream Orchards.

"That being said, he's been successful. The growers I have are not putting these specialty varieties in. You may sell some, but not a lot. Small growers can handle it. Big growers can't.

"The consumers, on the other hand, have to figure it out. If you have a bushel of apples and the consumer hasn't figured it out, they're not going to buy it."

 
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