University of Minnesota apple variety MN #1955 is trademarked nationally as Rave and sold by Minnesota growers as First Kiss. (Courtesy David Hansen, University of Minnesota)

University of Minnesota apple variety MN55, trademarked nationally as Rave and sold by Minnesota growers as First Kiss, is scheduled to reach store shelves in commercial volumes for the first time this year.(Courtesy David Hansen, University of Minnesota)

Everyone remembers their First Kiss; some even Rave about it.

Name-play aside, growers and marketers hope the MN55 apple will have a memorable effect when it reaches the commercial market this year, whatever shoppers call it.

The MN55, the 27th apple released by the University of Minnesota, was scheduled to reach store shelves in measurable volumes this year for the first time. However, the cultivar will carry different names depending on where it was grown.

Producers in Minnesota, whose taxes help pay for the breeding program’s work, get to call it First Kiss. All Minnesota growers have access to it. Everyone else in the world will know it as Rave under an exclusive license held by Stemilt Growers of Wenatchee, Washington.

The arrangement allows Minnesota growers to maintain a local niche, said Jim Luby, director of tree fruit and berry breeding programs for the University of Minnesota. Most Minnesota apples end up in Minnesota stores and markets.

“We wanted to distinguish locally grown fruit,” he said.

Minnesota produces precious few apples, so the university needs production outside the state. This year, Minnesota is forecast to produce 580,000 42-pound bushels, compared to Washington’s 155 million.

Thus, most of the volume will fall under Stemilt’s umbrella and therefore carry the name Rave. For Stemilt, the separate brand allows them more control of production standards.

The company harvested more than 60,000 40-pound box equivalents of Rave this year but is recruiting more growers, both in and out of Washington, and expects that number to triple in no time, said Roger Pepperl, Stemilt’s marketing director.

The business has no specific target production goal but “we’re not even close yet,” he said.

The apple, a cross between a Honeycrisp and an early ripening University of Arkansas cultivar, is known for its tart flavor, juicy and crisp texture and early harvest window, Pepperl said. The company began harvesting the cultivar in late July and wrapped up in early August.

In August, Stemilt promoted the Rave at a “pop-up” storefront in downtown New York City and gave samples to about 3,000 people.

The apple’s history dates back to the 1990s when Minnesota breeders began shooting for a cultivar with similar taste and texture characteristics of the Honeycrisp, also a Minnesota product, that matured early.

The MN55 ended up beating the Honeycrisp harvest by four weeks, according to university press materials. •

—by Ross Courtney