YAKIMA, Wash. — The countdown to takeoff for Cosmic Crisp has begun.
Though commercial planting of trees won’t begin until next year and the apple be available to consumers until 2020, shipments of the variety could approach 5 million cartons by 2022.
Cristy Warnock, operations manager at Proprietary Variety Management, Yakima, said there were initial thoughts that only about 450,000 trees would be available for planting in 2017, but that amount was increased to 700,000 trees because of more trees were propagated than first thought.
A drawing was conducted to portion out available trees to interested growers in Washington growers. Those trees will be delivered next spring, she said.
For 2018, the variety will be open to all Washington growers.
In 2015, Warnock said there were about 1 million tree orders for 2018, but that number has jumped to 2 million trees by March and that number has probably increased since March, she said.
For 2019, about 1 million trees have been ordered, and Warnock said tree orders could eventually climb to at least 2018 levels.
“It is gaining a lot of momentum very quickly and if it keeps up this pace, we expect to have about 5 million boxes in the market within the first five years of planting.”
In contrast, it took 10 to 15 years for the Pink Lady variety to get up to that many boxes. “There probably won’t be any fruit in the market place until 2020 at the earliest, but from that point on it will be ramping up production very quickly,” she said
The variety will be grown only in Washington state but delivered all over the country, she said. For the first ten years, the variety will be exclusive to Washington state growers, and after that the market will be evaluated to see if local growers can provide market demand. “If they can, we are willing to extend exclusivity longer to Washington state growers, but if they feel they have hit a saturation point and we think the market needs more, we would consider opening it up,” she said.
Warnock said the decline of red and golden delicious coincides with rising fortunes for Cosmic Crisp. “There are a lot of positive things that make it a win-win for everyone,” she said. The apple appeals to consumers, is fairly easy to grow and stores very well, she said. “We think conditions are just right for this to be one of the next big standout apples and there will be so much critical mass hitting the shelves that once it is there it will be there to stay, we think,” she said.
To get the critical mass that will bring consumer recognition of a new apple variety and win retailer shelf space, several million boxes of apples per year are needed. Cosmic Crisp appears to be in a position to do that, she says.
Even now, Warnock said she receives e-mails from consumers wanting to know when the apple will be available in their store. “Considered we haven’t advertised this at all, the fact that consumers are already asking about this is fascinating to us,” she said.
Marketing of Cosmic Crisp
There will be numerous Washington marketers selling Cosmic Crisp, Warnock said. In April 2015, PVM hosted the first meeting of a marketing advisory board that included key marketers with experience launching new varieties. In September 2015, the board was opened up to all of the major sales and marketing groups to participate, she said. “Right now we have a dozen people invited to our marketing meeting to plan out how we are going to do this in a concerted way,” she said. There is talk now of setting quality standards, with a subcommittee looking at how quality standards will be developed for the variety.
This year, the marketing department at Washington State University is involved with providing marketing ideas on Cosmic Crisp from marketing students. “What we are hoping to get out of that is some really fresh ideas,” she said. Ideas such as social media campaigns, contests, events, package design and survey could emerge from the association with WSU, she said. Those ideas would then be presented to the marketing advisory board for consideration, she said.
The organic share of Cosmic Crisp production is expected to be significant, though the percentage is not know yet, she said.
A database will be developed to show where Cosmic Crisp trees are planted and whether they are organic or conventional, she said.
Shippers are hopeful about what the Cosmic Crisp can bring.
Only a few growers have tasted the Cosmic Crisp, but because it is an open variety many growers are choosing Cosmic Crisp to replace red delicious fruit, said Randy Steensma, president of the Wenathcee-based Honey Bear Tree Fruit Co. “You are betting the farm on a consumer who hasn’t even tasted your apple.”
Still, he said Honeycrisp is not a managed variety and the same marketers who will sell the Cosmic Crisp have sold Honeycrisp at $80 per carton, Steensma said.
WA 2 apple to be relaunched
The WA 2 apple, originally launched from the Washington State University breeding program in 2011 with no name assigned, is being relaunched by PVM, Wornack said. The name that two separate consumer focus groups favored is Sunrise, and the variety will be marketed as Sunrise Magic.
“We hear that there are quite a few orders for 2018 planting,” she said. “I don’t know if it will ever be as Cosmic Crisp will be, but it gaining traction so are excited about that,” she said.
Article by Tom Karst, The Packer