The owners of the Pink Lady brand were among the pioneers of branded apple varieties.
Pink Lady is the brand name for Cripps Pink, an apple bred in Western Australia. Brandt’s Fruit Trees in Yakima, Washington, holds a license to propagate and sell Pink Lady trees in the United States, and began selling trees soon after it was patented in the early 1990s.
Managing the brand in the United States has not always been easy, says Lynnell Brandt, president of Brandt’s Fruit Trees, and a member of the International Pink Lady Alliance.
"We have always had a little bit of a challenge and a push-back in the industry, perhaps because Pink Lady was the first one out there, and we didn’t have any templates and made a lot of mistakes," he said. "The number-one challenge was an educational process within the industry to know how to go forward and collectively do this.
"Now, we have more branded products on the scene, and people are being champions of those," he added. "There’s now more of an understanding of what the challenges are. I am gratified that I believe we really are obtaining an industry consensus about how to do those things. I think it’s important that we have broad industry involvement to find the right pathways forward."
Brandt considers the Pink Lady approach to be unique in that it has a global focus and attempts to coordinate industries around the world to support the brand. It has set up infrastructure for international communication and has strategies for achieving common goals. "We have certainly not done everything right, but it’s still a pretty robust program with, we think, a lot of potential now."
Brandt said he has always believed that management of intellectual property internationally was necessary from the Washington tree fruit industry’s perspective. "I see that as a necessary tool for the industry to use to protect their investments and their goals from the potential of products being produced in other countries and coming in uncontrolled, or in a way that could undermine their efforts."
Pink Lady differs from other managed varieties such as Jazz or Pacific Rose from ENZA in New Zealand, in that planted acreage has not been limited. Brandt’s was selling Pink Lady trees before the International Pink Lady Alliance was formed.
If the Pink Lady program were just beginning today, there’d be an effort to have more captured tonnage, Brandt said, so that anyone who bought the trees would have a commitment to the program and would have input. "There would be more of a consensus, and more funds available to meet the goals of the program."
Pink Lady America handles promotions and maintains quality standards for Pink Lady in North America. Producers pay a per-box assessment on fruit imported or exported under the Pink Lady brand name, but not on apples sold under the variety name Cripps Pink or apples sold under the Pink Lady brand on the domestic market. Most of the funds collected are used to promote Pink Lady in North America.
John Reeves, general manager of Pink Lady America, tried to encourage Washington marketers to join a domestic marketing program to be funded by the assessments on imports and exports plus an assessment for using the Pink Lady flowing heart logo on the domestic market. Reeves planned to work directly with marketers to develop marketing plans for specific retailers.
However, he found that the sales desks wanted to do their own marketing, and he changed the program so that marketers will not have to pay to use the flowing heart logo on the domestic market. Pink Lady America will develop promotional materials, using just the import-export funds, but will not be involved in the marketing.
Brandt sees it as a significant development that most of the Washington marketers are supporting the program and will be using the flowing heart brand. "I see it as significant in that we will be collectively marketing it and promoting it under the brand name, so consumers will not be confused," he said.
"My hope is that the entire industry and the production from all appropriate trees will be marketed under the Pink Lady brand, and, specifically, the flowing heart brand, and that we will collectively, as an industry, work together to use that brand to initiate new market penetrations and new possibilities to educate the consumer as to the merits of the product, and through that keep the value of the product for just as long as we possibly can. That’s always been the goal."
New and improved sports of Pink Lady will be part of the effort to maintain the value of the brand. These include earlier-maturing sports and better-colored sports with names such as Rosy Glow, Ruby Pink, and Lady in Red, which could expand the areas where the variety can be grown.
Most of the sports are from Australia and one is from New Zealand. Rosy Glow has already been planted in Europe and South Africa. They will be managed and marketed under the Pink Lady brand.
Brandt said a number of sports are in quarantine at the NRSP-5 (National Research Support Project No 5) program in Prosser, Washington, or have already gone through quarantine and are being evaluated to determine whether they meet all the specifications of the Pink Lady brand in terms of appearance and internal quality standards. This is important so that consumers receive a consistent product when they buy Pink Lady apples.
Some sports could be available for planting in 2010 from Brandt’s and sub- licensees. The royalty system will be similar to that for Pink Lady, though the amount of the tree royalty has not yet been determined, he said.
Although Washington’s growing conditions tend to be conducive to good color development, Brandt said the higher-coloring Pink Lady sports might result in higher packouts. The earlier-maturing strains have captured a tremendous amount of interest because several times in recent years, an early freeze has hit Washington State while the Pink Lady crop was still on the trees.
Growers are still interested in producing Pink Lady because of the good returns it commands, and Brandt sees good additional marketing potential.
Production of Cripps Pink in Washington in 2007 amounted to 2 million boxes. About 18 million cartons are produced worldwide.
Asked whether the IPLA (International Pink Lady Alliance) might consider limiting production of Pink Lady, Brandt said the association is looking into the feasibility and consulting with the variety owners and looking at the legal aspects.
In some countries, such as Australia and New Zealand, the developers of a sport derived from another variety have obligations to the owners of the original variety, he said. In the United States, however, a sport can be patented as a new variety. The challenge with the variety until now has been to have sufficient supplies—particularly in years when product was lost to freezes, Brandt said. "We lost shelf continuity, which is a major challenge."