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Let’s Talk Food: Another new breed of apple

  • Koru apples. (Photo courtesy Audrey Wilson)

“From a discarded apple in a rose garden, grew a seedling, which grew into an extraordinary new apple variety.” Geoff Plunkett discovered Koru as a seedling in 1998 near Nelson, New Zealand. Family believed the seedling grew from an apple his wife’s mother threw into the garden.

The Koru apple is a cross between Braeburn and Fuji varieties, its skin is orange-red over a gold or green background with crisp, juicy, sweet flesh. Like the Envy apple, it does not brown quickly so works well in salads. There are notes of honey, orange juice, spice, and vanilla. It also has been described as cidery, due to its juiciness.

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The first Koru was first commercially available in 2013. Today, 85% of the Koru apples are imported from New Zealand. But it grows in the Northwest and Northeast of the United States.

Many see this apple to have a larger presence on grocery shelves.

So what happened to all that hype about Cosmic Crisp apples? The industry spent an unprecedented $10 million for marketing the then new product. But in March, it was reported that the Cosmic Crisp saw a drop of 39% in just two months.

Industry leaders are now questioning the $500 million gamble to promote this new variety of apple, according to Desmond O’Rourke, world apple analyst and retired Washington State University agricultural economist in Pullman.

I wrote about the Cosmic Crisp apple as the promotions on it were intense. Then I waited for it to come to the markets. The first time, it got flown in so the prices are unaffordable, at over $6 per pound. I really never saw much of it again except in the form of juice.

“It was a surprise to all of those who have millions of dollars invested in it,” said Brian Focht, manager of The Washington Apple Growers Marketing Association in Wenatchee.

“With last year’s debut, it started at $65.90 a box and then up and averaged $72 for the season. This year, we started about the same and just didn’t get the pull we needed to move the fruit.” Focht said. “We anticipated big demand and it wasn’t there.”

He noted several reasons for the failure of Cosmic Crisp.

It was held in storage from fall harvest to December for proper ripening. When it reached grocery stores in December it couldn’t get the same press attention that it got the year before because COVID-19 and the presidential election dominated the news, he said.

Retailers were dealing with coronavirus and keeping the staple items in stock. They had no time to deal with Cosmic Crisp advertising, displays and the planned sampling was banned at the stores.

“Retailers were not displaying it as a premium apple but putting it in regular displays with all the other bi-colored apples. They didn’t move because they were twice as expensive,” he said.

Cosmic Crisp was priced at $3-$4 per pound while the other apples were selling for $1.29 to $2 a pound.

“After one season, consumers haven’t had a chance to figure out it is a premium apple,” he said.

There is also more Cosmic Crisp this season than last. Production increased from 360,000 boxes in 2019 to 1.6 million boxes in the 2020 season. Further, it is projected that 5.1 million boxes will be produced in the fall 2021 season and by 2026, the number will increase to 22 million.

For this season, there are still 892,000 boxes that remain to be sold, with only 734,000 boxes sold since March 1. “We needed to move 80,000 boxes a week and were moving 40,000, so we needed something to kick it in the rear.” Focht said.

A major retailer, which he declined to name, will give one million Cosmic Crisp apples away, one apple with each online grocery order by consumers, which already started at the end of March.

This would replace the once intended store sampling.

Can you imagine the marketing groups trying to figure how to turn this disaster around to make it successful?

WSU and Proprietary Variety Management, a Yakima company on contract with WSU to manage commercialization, are spending $10.5 million, from tree and fruit royalties, from 2018 through 2022 promotions.

One big problem for the disappointment is that coming from such young trees, which are only 2-4 years old, the quality is not as consistent as you would have in more mature trees.

Correction to last week’s column:

Chef Chris Oh did not make the SPAM dish for Olympians as I wrote, but rather partnered with the SPAM brand to make a SPAM dish to celebrate global cuisine in honor of the Olympic games.

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My apologies to Chef Oh, but I bet he would have enjoyed making a dish for the Olympians!

Second correction: SPAM is made up of six, not five ingredients: pork with ham, salt, water, potato starch, sugar and sodium nitrite.

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