Washington State University is planning to name and rerelease its first apple variety WA 2 with the hope that it will be more successful this time around.
Proprietary Variety Management, which is managing the commercialization of the university’s second apple variety, WA 38, will also head the relaunch of WA 2. It’s not yet known exactly how existing WA 2 growers will be accommodated in the new program.
WSU released WA 2 in 2011 without a name, leaving it up to producers to call it what they liked, a move that proved controversial.
About 130 growers had agreements to evaluate the variety, and 30 growers applied for commercial licenses, but only a few are still growing it commercially.
The lack of a standard name, and potential confusion in the marketplace, was cited as a reason for the lack of enthusiasm.
But those who grow the variety sing its praises.
Bob Meyer of Toppenish, Washington, has two and a half acres and is a big fan. “It looks good, it tastes great, and it stores like no other,” he said.
But he did find the lack of name a drawback. He pestered staff at the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, which handled the initial commercialization plan for the variety, who finally suggested he call it Crimson Delight.
The name caught on with the variety’s other growers. Meyer’s first crop was packed and sold by Borton and Sons in Yakima. He now takes his fruit to Apple King in Yakima.
Mike Saunders, a partner at Apple King, said his company packs Crimson Delight for four growers as well as fruit from its own 10-acre planting.
“The market’s been very receptive to them,” he reported.
What’s special about WA 2 is its keeping quality. It stays crisp and the flavor actually improves in storage.
“The flavor’s wonderful, if you wait,” he said. “It holds very well. It has a thin skin and a great flavor, and a great eating experience.”
This year, Apple King put its 400 bins of Crimson Delight in regular storage and packed them in early February. Saunders said the company could have waited longer, but it had buyers waiting for them.
“It’s been an interesting variety,” Saunders said. “You can’t rush it. You have to be patient with it.”
Another unusual characteristic is its natural sheen. When it’s brushed and polished on the packing line, it’s shiny even without being waxed. That could make it a good variety for organic production, he said.
In taste tests that WSU conducted in March 2012, consumers far preferred WA 2 to Gala in terms of appearance, flavor, and texture. More than 70 percent of the consumers preferred WA 2 to Gala overall. The Gala apples had been treated with MCP (1-methylcyclopropene) before storage, but the WA 2 had not.
Tom Auvil, research horticulturist with the Tree Fruit Research Commission, describes WA 2 as a “bullet-proof storage apple” with good potential for sales in June, July, and August.
It gains even more flavor when it’s set out on a counter at room temperature for a week. On the growing side, the tree is compact and very productive. He said there are growers outside the group that signed up initially who are interested in growing the variety, and WSU would like to accommodate that interest.
Tom Kelly, licensing officer at the WSU Research Foundation, said the university learned from the initial “flop” of WA 2. “Sometimes those earlier mistakes end up being beneficial.”
The university set up an entirely new process for commercializing its second variety, WA 38, which it gave the trade name Cosmic Crisp. Proprietary Variety Management (PVM) is managing its commercialization.
But, recognizing the market potential of WA 2, the university is taking another look at it.
Under the initial WA 2 plan, growers who obtained commercial licenses paid a one-time royalty of either $1 a tree or $1,000 per acre for those who planted more than 1,000 trees per acre. The plan called for the tree royalty to increase to $2,000 per acre once production of the apple reached 250,000 boxes. No production royalties were to be charged.
Dr. Jim Moyer, director of the Office of Research at WSU’s College of Agriculture, Health, and Natural Resource Sciences, said WSU has “pushed the reset button” on WA 2 and contracted with PVM to manage the commercialization process for that variety also.
Dr. Caroline Ross, food scientist at WSU, and PVM are working on a brand name for the variety. John Reeves, general manager of PVM, said consumer focus groups will give their opinions on the top two or three names the university comes up with.
“We want to get consumer input early on, before people put a lot of money into it, to make sure we have something worthwhile,” said Reeves.
Reeves said Crimson Delight is among the names they are considering, but the whole idea is to find a name that resonates with consumers.
“That’s the most important thing,” he said. “They are the ones who have the money, and if we want the money, we need to do what they want—that’s the principle behind this. We want to get consumer input early on, before people put a lot of money into it, to make sure we have something worthwhile.”
Nurseries grew thousands of WA 2 trees for the initial commercial plantings in 2011. Licensed growers were able to buy as many trees as they liked, but demand fell far short of expectations.
Bill Howell, manager of the Northwest Nursery Improvement Institute, said only currently licensed growers can order nursery trees of WA 2, and he was not aware of any being grown.
But nurseries still have their mother trees and are ready to make trees if there’s demand. Moyer said that plenty of budwood is available, so there would be no restriction on the number of trees a grower could plant under the new plan.
PVM will manage the brand and collect royalties from producers. There will likely be a per-tree royalty and production royalties, though Reeves said the amounts have not yet been finalized.
So what happens to the growers already producing the variety as Crimson Delight?
Kelly said any currently licensed WA 2 growers who want to switch to the new commercialization program will be able to do so, but they won’t have to.
“They can proceed as they wish, according to the agreement, and use whatever name they want,” he said. However, it’s probably in their best interest to go with the new trademark, when it’s developed, and be part of the marketing and promotion effort that will eventually take place, he added.
Meyer, who’s rather fond of Crimson Delight, is not sure he wants to switch.
“I don’t think we want to change the name of it,” he said. “I think it’s a great name just like it is.”
Saunders said that, after developing markets for Crimson Delight, Apple King would not want to change the name of the fruit from its existing plantings. L & M Companies in Yakima sells Apple King’s fruit. Saunders said it’s been a bright spot in the apple deal and generated good returns even during this difficult marketing season. The company hopes to increase production to around 50,000 boxes.
“Right now, the market is good, and it’s more like a club variety,” he said. “It’s one of those specialty type apples.”
Reeves said he expected all WA 2 growers would be part of the new program. “The problem with having multiple names is you totally confuse the consumer, and the variety will never have the ability to have the economic impact that it could have,” he said. •