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Washington’s Betting Big on Cosmic Crisp

Washington’s Betting Big on Cosmic Crisp

A shift is taking place in the Washington apple market as a popular new variety; Cosmic Crisp is set to take the industry by storm in the next three years. The apple was developed by Washington State University and is a cross between the Honeycrisp and Enterprise varieties, which grows faster, is higher in sugar, and provides better yield than other varieties.

The state is betting big on this apple, planting more than 11 million trees in the next several years. Its production will eclipse the total U.S. production with the exception of the top 6 apple varieties by 2022.

It’s a big gamble for the Washington apple industry, but Honeycrisp apples, which sell on average between $50 — $70 per carton, trump a staple apple like the Red Delicious which sells between $6 — $15 per carton. The hope is that Cosmic Crisp will sell with the higher margins, providing growers much higher profits.

In a historic move, industry leaders are working together like never before in a bid to make this new variety a success. In April, the members of the marketing advisory group, which includes participation from packers and marketers who handle between 80 and 90 percent of the state’s production, agreed that Cosmic Crisp would be the primary brand for the apple, followed by Washington Apples, the label of the Washington Apple Commission. And shippers have agreed to remain nearly invisible on any consumer packaging; an unheard-of position by the industry.

Washington provides 60% of the U.S. production and 3% of global apple production. The state began growing Cosmic Crisp apples ten years ago, and international growers in a handful of countries that don’t ship to the U.S. will be able to grow the variety soon. The restrictions on who grows this variety are meant to protect the patent overseas, but growers elsewhere in the U.S. will have to wait, giving Washington a head-start with the variety.

Predictions are that Red, Golden, Rome, and Empire, along with many other varieties will continue to decline as the Cosmic Crisp production increases. And after years of breeding efforts, test planting, and market research–although Cosmic Crisp looks promising, there are no guarantees for growers who are on the hook for an investment of $40,000-$50,000 per acre.

But if the variety catches on and the industry can demand a premium price for this new apple, it will pay off big for growers. Plus, with fewer acres of other varieties like Gala, Red Delicious, and Golden Delicious, the price of those apples may also increase boosting farm profits.

“It’s a gutsy move,” says Gary Garnand of Garnand Marketing, “but with the massive promotion efforts of the Washington Apple Commission and the production protection for a period of time, I think it will provide the state a big success. And it will give Washington the opportunity to set a standard others can’t reach, like Idaho once had with Russet Burbanks.”

The other concerns are inclement weather conditions and fierce competition for grocery shelf space among varieties.

“This bold step could pay big dividends for the Washington apple industry as long as acreage and volume are held in check so growers can maintain the profit level they desire,” Gary added.

The variety was an immediate hit with consumers and promises to provide a higher sale price right out the gate. But growers don’t control consumers, who in the end will determine the success or failure of this new club variety.

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