Those two new apple varieties formerly called New York 1 and New York 2 and now named SnapDragon and RubyFrost were named “the good fashioned way, with hard work.”
That’s according to Jeff Crist, vice chair of the board of directors of NYAG (New York Apple Growers) and a fruit grower from Walden, New York, who disclosed the names on August 1, during the annual fruit field days at the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station in Geneva.
The new varieties were developed by Cornell University apple breeder Dr. Susan Brown, who announced their release in May 2010, at which time she also told how they would be commercialized. Only New York growers who are members of NYAG (some 143) can grow them. At the time of their release, the apples were not named.
Crist said the plan from the start was to involve a lot of people and get a lot of opinions about what the names should be. “We used Cornell University and all the resources there,” he said.
These included the faculty and students in the Charles H. Dyson School for Applied Economics and Management.
About 80 students divided into 20 four-person teams to taste the apples and develop names and marketing schemes for the new varieties.
When all was said and done, Crist said, the NYAG marketing committee still struggled with the name, especially for SnapDragon. “We worried that maybe the dragon image might be too scary for children, or that people would confuse the apple with the flower of the same name.”
Dr. Bradley Rickard, an assistant professor in the Dyson School and director of the Horticultural Business and Policy Program, conducted consumer surveys of the kind of names people respond to.
“Sensory names”—like Honeycrisp or SweeTango—that describe taste or texture have greater appeal than “appearance names”—like Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, or Red Rome, he said. And the poorest names are “namesake names,” like Empire, Cortland, or McIntosh.
In the end, the namers went with the more appealing sensory names.
The name announcement came replete with promotional materials—logos for both SnapDragon and RubyFrost. Snapdragon’s logo is a stylized dragon curled into an S shape with its name and the words Monster Crunch below it. The name RubyFrost appears in red below a blue stylized snowflake and over the words Cool, Crisp, Craveable.
“I remember my very first bite of SnapDragon. The taste, the crispness, and the juiciness impressed us,” said Brown, who was quoted in a press release put out by Cornell University.
“Retailers will appreciate its other qualities as well, because although SnapDragon’s harvest window starts relatively early—in late September—its long storage and shelf life means retailers may be able to offer it with consistent quality for a longer time than Honeycrisp.”
“SnapDragon is a great name for this apple because consumers found its crispy texture and sweet flavor so appealing,” said Mark Russell, an apple grower and NYAG member quoted in the Cornell University press release.
RubyFrost, formerly New York 2, which ripens later in the fall and stores well, will provide a boost of vitamin C well into winter, Brown said. It was bred to have high Vitamin C, which gives the apples the acidy tang. Brown expects it will be popular with fans of Empire and Granny Smith.
“I think juicy and refreshing when I eat a RubyFrost,” Russell said. “It’s a fascinating apple, with a beautiful skin and a nice sugar-acid balance, but to me the crisp juiciness is rewarding every time.”
In May 2010, Cornell forged a partnership for a managed release with NYAG, a newly formed industry group, to establish an exclusive licensing agreement in North America for the two apple varieties. Growers pay royalties on trees purchased, acreage planted, and fruit produced, and the income is used to market the new varieties and support Cornell’s apple breeding program.
The first trees were planted in farmers’ orchards in 2011, and now 400 acres are growing across the state. According to NYAG, the still-young trees will produce a limited crop this year, but consumers can search
out SnapDragon and RubyFrost at select NYAG farm stands across the state. By 2015, the varieties will be vying for space in grocery stores among the Empire, Gala, and Honeycrisp, and there should be about 900 acres producing about a million bushels a years, Crist said. About 60 percent are expected to be SnapDragon.
Greater quality, better storage, and disease and insect resistance have long been the goals of Cornell’s apple breeding program. Cornell has released 66 apple varieties since the late 1890s, including Cortland, Macoun, Empire, and Jonagold. Brown herself has brought consumers Fortune and Autumn Crisp varieties, as well as ten sweet and one tart cherry variety. In an article in Good Fruit Grower in July 2010, Brown described the ancestry and characteristics of the new, dark red apples.
SnapDragon’s parents include Honeycrisp on one side. Later to mature (late September) and without the problems that make Honeycrisp hard to grow, pack, and sell, it is said to have the Honeycrisp sweetness, crunch, and juiciness that have become the new standard in the industry. “With uniform ripening, good color development, and freedom from storage problems, New York 1 provides premium apples from a reliable tree,” Brown said.
New York 2, now RubyFrost, is a cross of Braeburn and Autumn Crisp. It is described as sweet and tart. Brown said it is even more grower friendly than SnapDragon. Harvested mid- to late October, RubyFrost is firm, red-skinned, and suited for fresh eating or baking. It is a heavy cropper that will require thinning, she said. The parent Autumn Crisp, released by Cornell in 2009, is a cross of Golden Delicious and Monroe. RubyFrost is expected to store well, where Autumn Crisp does not.
The trees are being grown by Wafler Nurseries. SnapDragon is a weak-growing tree, Honeycrisp-like, and it is being budded primarily on the stronger M.9 rootstocks like Nic.29. The more vigorous RubyFrost is usually budded on Bud.9 or M.9 337.