Next Big Thing’s last big thing was the SweeTango apple. Now, it appears, its next big thing will be apples with red flesh.
The Minnesota-based Next Big Thing cooperative has joined with 12 other fruit marketers from 11 countries and five continents in a global consortium called IFORED. The goal is to bring red-fleshed apples to market within five years. IFORED was coined from the acronym of International Fruit Obtention, the French-based company formed in 2004 to breed for red flesh in apples, and the word red.
Tim Byrne, president of Next Big Thing, said IFORED was created in October, when the fruit marketers met at the IFO headquarters in Angers, France. The consortium will test, select, and commercialize red-fleshed apple varieties. Byrne said a few Next Big Thing grower members across the United States and eastern Canada will plant red-fleshed apple selections this spring. “In the next two years, three or four growers will plant 10 to 15 red-flesh selections, looking for those that have commercial potential,” he said.
IFO was created in 2004 when two large French nursery companies combined their assets and began breeding for apples with unique traits, including red flesh, but also emphasizing disease resistance and fruit quality traits. The company has 50 acres devoted to apple breeding.
Next Big Thing was formed in 2006 to grow and market a new apple from the University of Minnesota’s breeding program. Rights to the apple, MN 1914 and named Minneiska by the university, were licensed to Pepin Heights Orchards, which named the new apple SweeTango and fostered creation of the cooperative.
Next Big Thing consists of 45 growers from across the northern United States and 19 growers in Quebec and Nova Scotia, Canada. It began selling SweeTango apples in small quantities in the fall of 2009. Production was hurt this year by freezes across the Midwest, but the crop was fair in the Northeast and good in eastern Canada and in Washington State, Byrne said.
In a press release announcing IFORED, Bruno Essner, president of the board, said, “We see tremendous potential for red-flesh apples. We have put together a marvelous group of experienced growers and marketers from across the world to harness this potential and to bring distinct apple varieties to market.”
“There is a lot of horsepower here,” Byrne said. The new organization creates a global company. Together, IFORED partners own or control about 100,000 acres of apple orchards. They produce 2 million metric tons of apples per year, and market about 2.5 million metric tons of apples annually.
“IFORED is truly global in scope,” Essner said. “The IFORED partners will bring together deep experience and remarkable market reach as we introduce these exciting red-flesh varieties to consumers across the world.”
Byrne said not only color is involved. “There are real opportunities, not only in visual appearance but in flavors and tastes as well,” he said. “There are a lot of flavors that occur in apples that are not currently encountered in our commercial varieties, flavors like citrus and strawberry. There may be health benefits as well, as the red color is associated with antioxidants.”
The varieties under development have flesh that ranges from about 30 percent pink to 100 percent fully intense red, Byrne said, and skin colors include red, orange, yellow, and bicolored.
One apple, which looks like a Golden Delicious outside and a pink grapefruit inside, “ate like a million bucks,” Byrne said, after he tried it.
Flavors in the varieties range from sweet to very tangy, and harvest times range from as early as Gala to as late as Cripps Pink.
IFORED marketers are getting trees ready for planting and will begin commercial production in the next few years. After 20 years of breeding, these third- and fourth-generation selections have been specially bred for reduced astringency, larger size, increased sugar content, more uniform appearance, and improved internal quality, storage, and shelf life, according to IFORED.
In addition to IFO, the partners in IFORED include Montague from Australia, Mono Azul from Argentina, Unifrutti from Chile, Dutoit from South Africa, AMG and Blue Whale from France, Fenaco from Switzerland, NovaMela from Italy, Nufri from Spain, Worldwide Fruit from the United Kingdom, and Next Big Thing from the United States.