( Courtesy Next Big Thing, a Growers Cooperative )

Things are sweet for the start of the SweeTango apple season.

Three weeks into the season, sales by mid-September were up 15% from last year, with demand at retail increasing. The group behind the apple, The Next Big Thing, A Growers’ Cooperative, is fueling consumer demand through outreach adapted to the COVID-19 pandemic environment, according to a news release.

“Our focus this season is on powering consumer pull-through, since food at home is where it is now and will be for a while,” Jennifer Parkhill, executive director of the cooperative, said in the release. “So we’ll be online, on air and in print where our target audiences are.”

The SweeTango is grown in five states and Novia Scotia, Canada. Harvest started in Washington and is wrapping up on the East Coast and in Midwestern orchards.

”This is the best eating fruit we’ve ever had – grab any bin coming in from the field, it’s top-level stuff, Austin Fowler, sales lead for Fowler Farms, Wolcott, N.Y., said in the release. “The packinghouse smells like a candy factory, the aroma stays on your clothes like cologne.”

Scott Swindeman, owner of Applewood Fresh Growers, Sparta, Mich., called it a vintage crop.

“The quality, condition and eating experience are outstanding,” Swindeman said in the release. “That creates opportunities for us to work with retailers to promote and advertise this apple to consumers like never before.”

Roger Pepperl, marketing manger at Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, Wash., said the apples have “great color and sugars” and that harvest was complete before winds, caused by wildfires, blew through the area.

“We have really wide distribution this year, with more participation from a broader variety of retailers – from the local and regional upscale markets, to the national chains and big-box retailers,” Pepperl said in the release.

Organic SweeTango production has increased as well, he said.

The cooperative has increased its marketing efforts, from a new jingle written about the variety, to animated videos and the planned launch of a website, SweeTango.com, according to the release.

A Crunch with Care campaign will donate to food banks.

“We are proud to be essential to feeding America’s families, and want to help Americans be healthier and happier right now,” Fowler said in the release.

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