This year’s apple crop has faced several uncertainties, including continued logistical challenges, historically high freight rates, West Coast port workers’ contract negotiations, the high value of the U.S. dollar, and inflationary pressures. We’re all feeling the pinch of increasing prices and the need to choose lower-cost alternatives. This includes the produce aisle. However, in all this uncertainty, there is still something to look forward to: Cosmic Crisp.
Cosmic Crisp (the trademarked brand name for the WA 38 apple) was developed over 20 years ago by Washington State University. It takes the long storage and the late ripening behavior of the Enterprise apple and combines it with the crisp texture and juiciness of the Honeycrisp. After several consumer focus groups around Seattle, Yakima and Pullman, Cosmic Crisp was awarded with its astronomically catchy name. The tiny lenticels on the apple reminded consumers of outer space, and so the “Cosmic” portion of the name was formed. Because the apple is a wonderful balance of sweet and tart, consumers have found it to be extremely versatile. It can be used for snacking, baking, cooking, juicing and much more!
Cosmic Crisp in name alone can’t create demand: Only getting these apples into consumers’ hands will build consumption and build brand loyalty. Consumers care most about the appearance, taste and texture of an apple. This is what will make them come back for more. Cosmic Crisp not only has all these characteristics, but the apples are also grower-friendly and hold up well in storage. Growers have set expectations high for Washington’s new flagship variety, but only time will tell if those eagerly awaited levels of success will be reached.
The best market for competitive grower returns is where we live — the United States. But our North American neighbors are also points of focus. The Washington Apple Commission is supporting shipments to Canada and Mexico with promotional activities at retail partner locations. As volumes continue to ramp up, it’s evident international consumer support will be imperative to ensure the success of Cosmic Crisp.
As emphasized in the table, Canada is the largest import market of Cosmic Crisp, followed by Taiwan, Mexico and Vietnam. These four countries account for 96 percent of the Cosmic Crisp exports for 2021–22, year to date.
With 38 million consumers and an average per capita income of $52,051 USD, Canada will remain Washington’s No. 1 priority for Cosmic Crisp exports. Canada represented 60 percent of the total exports in 2021–22. Therefore, our efforts in Canada remain essential and will be continued in the new season.
In the 2021–22 season, the Washington Apple Commission facilitated several successful promotional activities, including a brand partnership with chef Anna Olson, who is known as “Canada’s baking sweetheart.” Rewards programs were also set up at major retail locations that awarded consumers points with every Cosmic Crisp purchase. This season, the Washington Apple Commission has new representation with an experiential marketing company in Canada — called Pumped Inc. This representation will be a great way to increase promotional support with innovative and creative activities to positively impact consumer awareness and consumption.
Taiwan has been an exceptional market for Washington for decades and has historically imported 10.4 percent of Washington exports and 84 percent of all Fuji exports. Consumers there eat a whopping 279 pounds of fresh fruit annually and possess a willingness to pay for high-quality products. Although promotional support for Cosmic Crisp is in its infancy, due to limited exports, the Washington Apple Commission looks to increase the support in 2022–23 and beyond.
Proximity and diverse varietal interest give Mexico a strategic advantage for Washington. Red Delicious remains the favorite, but Gala is increasing in popularity every year, while Cosmic Crisp has proven a favorite among new varieties. Containerized shipments to overseas markets have been challenging in availability and cost, allowing Mexico and Canada to gain market share.
Vietnam is Washington’s most exciting market — it ticks all the boxes. Vietnam recognizes and has a demand for high-quality, food-safe U.S. products. Consumers also have an extensive interest in new proprietary varieties, as well as Cosmic Crisp. They are willing to pay above-average prices, and, when coupled with decreasing barriers to trade, there is a very positive outlook in the Vietnam market.
With so much in question for this season’s harvest, Cosmic Crisp has added a breath of fresh air to the continuing concerns for everyone in the industry. The late ripening behavior and high packout rate show promise for growers, while the texture, flavor and storage ability of the Cosmic Crisp appeal to consumers. This is especially true at a time when everyone wants the best value in what they buy. Time will tell how well this new variety performs, but when it comes to Cosmic Crisp, we’re shooting for the stars.
by Todd Fryhover