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During a trip to Japan in 1990,  Luis Braun, a grower in Italy's South Tyrol district, discovered a branch in a Fuji orchard with apples that had attractive coloring and a particularly pleasant taste. He and his sons Jurgen and Thomas developed the sport

During a trip to Japan in 1990, Luis Braun, a grower in Italy’s South Tyrol district, discovered a branch in a Fuji orchard with apples that had attractive coloring and a particularly pleasant taste. He and his sons Jurgen and Thomas developed the sport

Columbia Fruit Packers of Wenatchee, Washington, is partnering with the European company Kiku, Ltd., to produce and market Kiku, a branded Fuji apple.

Under the partnership, Columbia Fruit Packers has exclusive rights to pack and sell Kiku-brand apples in
North America, using the same quality standards and logo as European partners.

Kiku is a strain of Fuji that South Tyrolean fruit grower Luis Braun discovered while traveling around Japan in 1990. His sons Thomas and Luis developed a marketing concept for Kiku with partners in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Slovenia, and Italy. In 2005, they created a company called Kiku Limited. The partnership works closely on packaging, promotional activities, maintaining quality standards worldwide, and new markets.

Tim Welsh, horticulturist with Columbia Fruit Packers, said the company made its first commercial planting this spring and will be ramping up production as quickly as possible. It expects to have a few thousand bins to sell in 2007. Acreage of Kiku will not be restricted. However, fruit to be sold under the Kiku brand will need to meet certain quality standards. Apples that don’t meet those standards must be marketed simply as Fuji.

Welsh said the objective is to deliver fruit of a consistently high eating quality that will enable the variety to claim a place on the supermarket shelf amid an increasing number of other apple varieties. Production will be modest at first, but Columbia Fruit hopes to make it available year round by working with partners in the Southern Hemisphere.

Kiku apples grown in North America will be marketed exclusively through Columbia Marketing International, which is Columbia Fruit Packers’s marketer.

Mike Hambelton, vice president of marketing at Columbia Marketing, said he thinks club varieties are the way the apple industry will go in the future, but there must be something unique about the variety for it to succeed under the club system. “You can’t just call them a club variety—they’re going to have to be unique, different, and good.”

He described Kiku as a well-colored, striped Fuji with good flavor, and said there are not many of those around. But one of its most unique and appealing attributes is its name.

This is the first branded apple for Columbia Fruit Packers, but not for CMI. Columbia Marketing also markets fruit for McDougall and Sons, which has the exclusive production rights for the Ambrosia apple in the United States.

Hambelton said CMI has learned from its experiences with Ambrosia that it takes a lot of work to introduce a new variety into a market. The hardest part is to get the consumer to try a new variety.

“We can get shelf space for them by working with the retailer, but that doesn’t mean the consumer’s going to pick it up and try it,” he said.

Historically, Washington growers haven’t had to introduce new varieties. Granny Smith, Gala, and Braeburn, for example, were launched into markets worldwide by other growing regions.

Columbia Fruit Packers and partners from other growing regions around the world will take part in the first Kiku apple world meeting to be held during the Interpoma Trade show in November in Bolzano, Italy.