Yakima orchardist Randy Valicoff was at home watching Washington State University and the University of Washington battle it out in the Apple Cup when he had an idea. What if he produced apples with logos of the two football teams?
The following year, 2003, he tried it out, placing stickers of the Cougar and Husky logos on Pink Lady apples just before they turned color. Just as he planned, the skin of the apples turned pink, but the logos under the stickers did not, creating pale yellow logos on the fruit.
In 2004, Valicoff obtained a license to reproduce the team logos from the Collegiate Licensing Company and produced 2,000 apples. He carefully packed them in one-layer peach boxes, working in his garage so no one would know about them until they hit the market, about ten days before the November Apple Cup.
“Going into it, I didn’t know if anyone would even want these,” he said.
He sold most of them through two up-scale Seattle grocers, Larry’s Market and Metropolitan Market. He also sold some at the Olympia Farmers Market and Johnson Orchards’ fruit stand in Yakima. Curiously, the Cougar apples sold faster than the Huskies, even in Seattle, but all the apples were snapped up within six days.
“It was just a feeding frenzy,” Valicoff recalls. “I didn’t have enough fruit.”
The apples were such a novelty that when word spread about them, people raced to get them because they knew there weren’t many of them, he said. “It’s just supply and demand.”
Valicoff himself became something of a celebrity, being featured in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and other publications, and interviewed by several radio stations.
A Cougar fan, who is president of the California branch of Fremont Investment and Loan, contacted him to ask if he could produce apples with the company’s logo on them.
So Valicoff did that during the 2005 season. The apples, packed in gift boxes, are sent to Fremont’s offices around the country to give to clients at Christmas.
“Fremont thought it was the greatest thing since sliced bread,” he said. “This is a fun thing for people who don’t know anything about apples.”
The company likes to give its customers a novel gift, Valicoff said. “Do you want an apple or a pin? You can get a pin anywhere, but can you get one of these apples? That’s what it’s about.”
He’s not been able to produce as many apples as Fremont wanted because producing the logoed apples is difficult and risky. It’s taken him several years to perfect the technique, and, even now, he’s at the mercy of the weather.
While some growers have produced logoed Fuji apples before, he believes he’s the first to put logos on apples that are not bagged on the trees, and he won’t say exactly how he does it.
He hires his 16-year-old daughter, Ashlynn, and her high school friends to apply the stickers before the apples color. They select only the largest and cleanest apples for the logo treatment, making sure that the stickers are precisely positioned.
“It has to be delicately messed with,” said Valicoff, who’s found that the girls have an aptitude for the job.
To produce a sharp logo, the weather must be cool in the fall so that the apples color well. Yet, there’s always the risk of freezing weather before Pink Lady apples are harvested. Even in a good year, he can count on 20 percent cullage. He can’t sell anything less than a perfect logo, as his customers are buying the apples for their visual appeal.
Valicoff is exploring the possibility of producing apples for a big Washington company, which he says would be a fun project.
“The whole idea is to be fun. It’s all fun, and very little profit, and that’s the truth. That’s why I don’t want to do too many.”