A grower reaches out to consumers
The success of new varieties will depend on grower involvement.
Rosa Lynn is a chance seedling discovered on Washington’s Royal Slope. The fruit stores well.
If you discover an exciting new apple variety and want it to succeed, it’s going to take more than just delivering it to the warehouse, a marketer says.
Dain Craver has been traveling the country promoting Rosa Lynn, a new apple variety discovered in an orchard that he manages in Washington State’s Columbia Basin.
Craver, an organic grower, agrees with those who say there are already too many varieties competing for shelf space in the conventional marketplace. “But as a grower who is not vertically integrated with a packing shed, I need to find something I can do better than the other guys,” he said. “As a horticulturist, I’m always looking for varieties; that’s a fun thing to do.”
He needs a product that will give him a niche in the market. And he’s not just delivering it to the warehouse and leaving it up to them to sell it. He’s prepared to go out and meet consumers to tell them about the variety and let them taste it.
That’s the only way it will work, says Steve Reisenauer, sales manager for Sage Fruit Company, Yakima, which is marketing Rosa Lynn. It’s going to be very difficult otherwise to introduce more new varieties to the marketplace, he believes. Most retailers want one, or maybe two high-end apples that they can sell for $1.99 a pound or more, and they have seven to nine varieties to choose from. They’ll probably choose Honeycrisp, which is the hotshot variety that both retailers and consumers are willing to pay high prices for. “That means there’s an awful lot of varieties fighting for that other spot,” Reisenauer said.
Growers tend to think that if they come up with a new variety, the retailer will like it, and it will just move right through the system, he added. “That’s just not the case. It’s going to take growers getting involved.”
Growers must be willing to help launch the variety and understand that a lot of money—including a portion of their returns—will have to be spent on promotions and tastings so that consumers get to know the apple. There needs to be some pull through the store so that the retailer wants to keep stocking the variety.
Rosa Lynn originated in 1998 at an orchard on Washington’s Royal Slope owned by Keith Stein of Boise, Idaho. Craver is general manager of the orchard, which had a block of older trees of Rome, Winesap, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious with younger interplants. He and orchard manager Jose Ramirez noticed that one of the small trees was not in the tree row. As it bloomed and fruited, they realized it was not one of the interplants, but a chance seedling. Fuji and Gala are planted near the block, so there is no way to know what its parentage might be.
Craver and Ramirez put the first, small crop of apples in a refrigerator crisper and were encouraged to see that the fruit kept well for several months. They took bud wood from the original tree to graft over other trees in various locations to test it.
Apples they’ve found in the past always had drawbacks, such as overly large fruit or a tendency to bitter pit, but this new variety looked promising. It is a deep red color with a good flavor and flesh that doesn’t turn brown when cut. The apple matures in mid-September.
Reisenauer said that, along with other desirable characteristics, any new variety must peak in the desirable size range of 72 to 88. Smaller or larger apples are difficult to sell because the retailer will only devote 6 to 9 inches of shelf space to the variety. Only varieties that pack out to a premium grade and are the right size will return enough to repay the investments the grower has made in planting the trees and cover the royalties and promotional costs, he said.
At first, Craver took Rosa Lynn to Stemilt Growers, Inc., in Wenatchee, Washington, which sold it in both the conventional and organic markets. A year ago, Stemilt cut back on the number of varieties it was handling and decided that Rosa Lynn did not fit in its mix. He then approached Sage Fruit Company in Yakima, which had experience of marketing the new Sonya apple from New Zealand, and agreed to sell it conventionally.
Craver went to the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in Anaheim, California, last October, to give out samples at Sage’s booth, and told people how they found the variety and named it after Ramirez’s wife, Rosa, and Craver’s wife, GaryLyn.
“That was a great story,” Reisenauer said. “The retailers like that, and they picked right up on it.”
All of the production was sold—much of it to a store in Virginia, where Craver later went to do in-store demos. Craver said he’s passionate about apple growing and likes to share his enthusiasm with consumers and show them pictures of his family and the orchard. “It’s just a lot of fun and if you’ve got a good product you’re selling, it’s so much more fun.”
“Having growers like Dain who are willing to hop on a plane and spend a weekend in Virginia really helps,” Reisenauer commented.
The fruit returned more than $350 a bin last season, the highest of any variety other than Honeycrisp, Craver reported.
They now have a six-acre solid block of Rosa Lynn at Stein’s Manzana Orchard and a 4.5 acre block that Craver planted at his own orchard this spring. He removed his grafted trees because they were too difficult to manage among his other varieties.
“We have enough to produce 450 bins—enough to get out into the marketplace,” Craver said.
Reisenauer said he was very impressed with the storability of Rosa Lynn. Apples held in regular storage without SmartFresh (1-MCP) were still good and crisp in April.
“It’s a great apple,” he said. “We feel that he can grow his volume and, from the success and response we’ve had from those who took the apple, we think it will continue on, and it could be a very good apple for Dain.”