Marketers line up exclusive apples
Most have secured U.S. rights for varieties that originated in Europe or Canada.
Auvil Fruit Company
For a long time, Auvil Fruit Company had been on the lookout for a yellow, good-tasting dessert apple to add to its lineup of varieties, which includes Gala, Fuji, Honeycrisp, and Cripps Pink, but not a single Red or Golden Delicious apple.
Then along came Aurora, a pale yellow apple from Canada’s breeding program in Summerland, British Columbia. “We thought it was a wonderful apple,” said Brian Sand, Auvil’s sales manager. The company negotiated a nonexclusive license to produce the variety and is currently the only one in the United States growing commercial quantities, according to the Okanagan Plant Improvement Company (PICO), which manages the variety.
Sand said that as well as being a “fabulous eater,” Aurora is very productive and peaks on sizes 72 to 88 when grown on Auvil’s V-trellis system. But a drawback is its extreme susceptibility to bruising, and in British Columbia, it is now being grown mostly for direct on-farm sale. Auvil Fruit Company runs its packing line at half speed to avoid damaging the fruit.“We’re still learning how to grow it and particularly how to harvest it at the right maturity,” Sand said. “We still have a big learning curve.”
Despite the challenges of producing the variety, Auvil is planting more. It currently has between 50 and 80 acres, enough to produce about 6,000 bins. This is Auvil’s fourth season of selling the variety. It has a list of retail chains it is working with that are going to buy and promote the apple, and as production increases, it will add more to the list. Last fall, Sand visited a small chain in Florida. The manager told him that customers were asking when the store would have Aurora apples again.
“These are Florida people, and they have every piece of fruit to buy and they’re remembering Aurora,” Sand explained. “These are the reasons we continue to plant it. We wouldn’t do it if we didn’t have that kind of retail excitement.”
Rainier Fruit Company
When it comes to new varieties, Rainier Fruit Company is very selective, says marketing director Suzanne Wolter. “We’re not looking for them just to have them. We’re very selective in the varieties we choose to test.”
But when grower Don Emmon came along with a chance seedling he had found in his orchard at Gleed, Rainier decided to give it a try. The company liked it, patented it, and named it after company founder Bill Zirkle’s mother Alice. Rainier has been promoting the variety for the past four years, and it is becoming an important part of Rainier’s variety mix, Wolter said.
Rainier also has the U.S. marketing rights for a bicolored variety called Junami, which was developed in Switzerland, where it is known as Diwa. It is a hybrid of an Idared and Maigold cross and Elstar.
Rainier has been testing it for the past four to five years to see how it performs in Washington conditions. It is susceptible to fireblight, but the fruit stores well.
Broetje Orchards of Prescott, Washington, has picked a yellow apple to offer exclusively to its customers. It holds the North American license for Opal, a variety bred in the Czech Republic.
“I think the attraction of the Opal is that it’s not bicolored,” said Jim Hazen, general manager of the growing-packing company. “The majority of the new varieties that are being introduced are bicolored, or they’re red, and I think it’s hard for the consumer to distinguish one from the other.”
He also thinks retailers are receptive to a yellow variety to provide a better color spectrum for their produce aisle.
The challenge is to make sure that Opal isn’t confused with Golden Delicious, Hazen said, because it is quite different from a Golden. It is firmer, matures later, doesn’t bruise easily, and stores well. “It’s a phenomenal keeping apple,” Hazen said.
After testing the variety in the marketplace for a couple of years, Broetje had commercial volumes for the first time in 2009. The company offered the variety as an exclusive to specific retailers in each region.
“The retailers we worked with last year all want it back,” Hazen said.
Columbia Fruit Company
Columbia Fruit Company of Wenatchee, Washington, has been licensed by Greenstar Kanzi Europe to manage the new variety Kanzi in North America. Columbia Marketing International (CMI) is the marketer for Columbia Fruit.
Horticulturist Tim Welsh said that for the time being, Columbia Fruit is the only company in the United States producing the variety, but it will probably sublicense other Washington growers in the future.
Kanzi is a sweet apple that has a fairly high acid level also. It loses some tartness during storage, and will probably be a variety that won’t go to the market right after harvest. The company has done some test marketing and will have a little more fruit going out to retailers this year, Welsh said. “So far, the response has been very favorable.”
Columbia Fruit is also the U.S. licensee for Kiku, a branded Fuji sport. Welsh said the company felt that the Kiku brand was a good one to be involved with because the company was already familiar with the Fuji apple.
“That was a big factor,” he said. “We didn’t have to learn anything about the variety itself. We already knew what to expect, so what we were having to do was build the trademark and associate that with quality.”
It has sublicensed Kiku to Rice Fruit Company in Gardners, Pennsylvania, and to the Swindeman family’s Applewood Orchards, Inc., in Deerfield, Michigan. Rice has commercial quantities of Kiku to market this year and will supply some of the eastern markets.
Stemilt Growers, Inc.
Piñata is currently the only exclusive apple produced and sold by Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, though the company is testing other potential exclusive varieties. It is a member of the Next Big Thing cooperative that is producing and marketing the Minnesota variety SweeTango on a limited basis.
Piñata is the name that Stemilt gave to European variety Pinova when it acquired the North American production and marketing rights. Pinova (also at times named Corail and Sonata) was bred at Pillnitz, Germany, and introduced in 1986. It was developed from a cross of Duchess of Oldenburg and Cox’s Orange Pippin that was crossed with Golden Delicious. It is reported to have a similar flavor to Golden Delicious, but the skin has a bright pinkish-red blush over a yellow background. It matures about the same time as Golden Delicious and has similar storage qualities as the Golden.
Roger Pepperl, Stemilt’s marketing director, said the company was interested in Piñata because of its “heirloom” heritage. “We thought it was unique in the fact that it brought heirloom flavors together to make a better apple. We market it that way: It’s today’s heirloom. It’s not another Gala-Splendour or Braeburn-type cross. There are so many, it’s confusing.”
Pepperl said the apple also stands out on the grocery shelf because of its distinctive appearance. “You’ve got to do something different-different, not just different.
“It ends up being a small part of your business, so we should not overblow it as far as volume, but as far as strategy goes, I think retailers like to have something unique. “Between Piñata, SweeTango, and organic, it’s something to snazz it up a little bit.”
Riveridge Produce Marketing
The Red Prince apple is a chance seedling discovered in 1994 in an orchard in the Netherlands that is believed to be a cross of Jonathan and Golden Delicious. When Dutch nursery owners and orchardists Irma and Marius Botden moved to Ontario, Canada, and began growing apples there, they purchased the North American rights to the variety under their company name, Global Fruit Company. Riveridge Produce Marketing, Inc., of Sparta, Michigan, is the exclusive importer for their Red Prince apples in the United States, as well as for Canadian-grown Ambrosia.
Red Prince is predominantly red over a yellow background. It has a good sweet-tart flavor and a hard, dense texture, somewhat like Braeburn. It stores well and has outstanding shelf life, reports Don Armock, president of Riveridge.
Armock puts the apples in controlled-atmosphere storage and doesn’t sell them until January. This allows the character and flavor to develop, and he feels that introducing the apple in the New Year, rather than at the start of the season, builds anticipation and interest—similar to the introduction of Beaujolais Nouveau wine each year. It’s also a less busy time in the retail environment—after other apples and citrus have been promoted but before the Southern Hemisphere apples come onto the market.
McDougall & Sons
Ambrosia (a name that means food of the gods) is a chance seedling found in an orchard at Cawston in British Columbia, Canada. Scott McDougall, vice president with McDougall & Sons, Wenatchee, looked at the apple for a couple of seasons before obtaining the U.S. production and marketing rights from PICO in 2002.
“I liked the looks of the apple externally, I liked the taste, and I liked the name,” he said. “At that time I was trying to find some other apple, rather than just replanting mainstream varieties.”
And, at the time, it was a marketing advantage to have some exclusivity with an apple so the retailer could distinguish itself from other retailers.
Currently, plantings are limited to 600 acres. The fruit is sold by CMI (Columbia Marketing International), McDougall’s marketer.
McDougall & Sons is also producing the New Zealand varieties Jazz, Pacific Rose, and Envy.
McDougall feels it is still beneficial to have an exclusive variety to offer, but perhaps less so than in the past, partly because of the growing number of apples on the market. The company has been happy with the Ambrosia program and has been able to build demand slowly as it has built production. This year, it packed 300,000 boxes of Ambrosia, and production will probably be up to 600,000 within three years.
RubensChelan Fruit Cooperative and Columbia Fruit Growers
Columbia Fruit and Chelan Fruit have exclusive rights to produce the Italian apple Rubens in the United States. The bicolored apple is a cross of Elstar and Gala bred by the Consorzio Italiano Vivaisti (CVI). It has a complex sweet-tart flavor and probably stores as well as Gala, said Mac Riggan, marketing director at Chelan Fruit’s marketing arm, Chelan Fresh.
There are currently fewer than 30 acres of Rubens planted in Washington. This is Chelan Fresh’s second season of marketing the variety. Riggan said the cooperative is trying to determine what the true demand will be.
“You can sell any apple that has its own promotion,” he said. “If you demo Red Delicious, you will sell that. We’re going to demo the apple and see if customers pull it through the stores. We haven’t collected that data yet.”
Meanwhile, Chelan Fresh is on the lookout for other new varieties, he said. Any new apple has to be both good to eat and economical to produce.
“We’re definitely out there with some pretty exciting stuff in the ground that we think could have some possibilities. Our co-op has always believed you have to be constantly growing. Think about how big Gala is now, and it’s only been planted 20 years. If we hadn’t planted Galas and Fujis, where would our industry be?”