An apple variety that has taken the US by storm is on track to a commercial launch in Australia as Red Rich Fruits spearheads a $27 million investment in Cosmic Crisp - a fruit that took 20 years for researchers at Washington State University to breed in pursuit of the 'ultimate apple' that is sweet, juicy, slow to brown and long to store due to its thick skin.
Red Rich Fruits director Matt Palise, who is based in Coldstream, Victoria, tells Business News Australia there are currently 360,000 Cosmic Crip apple trees planted as of this winter in Australia, with plans for that number to reach 560,000 within two to three years.
"We were awarded the commercialisation rights for Australia in 2019, and we'll have our first commercial crop next year," Palise explains.
"From when you order a tree to when you're producing, it’s seven years – two years to get the rootstock and the tree, and five years to get the tree fully producing.
"We've got 13 growers across the country that are growing Cosmic Crisp apples for us. We’ve kept it to the cool climate regions, so we’re only growing it in Batlow NSW, the Yarra Valley in Victoria, and Manjimup in WA."
Red Rich Fruits - a fruit grower, packer, wholesaler and marketer representing 90 growers across the country - embarked on this project after observing an apple category that is 'stagnant, in deflation', according to Palise.
"I honestly believe no apple is delivering what they promise to the consumer, and we are charged and excited about using Cosmic Crisp to change the way the Australian consumer views the apple category, and their expectation on quality," he says.
"We're not trying to replace any other variety; we’re trying to increase the number of consumers in the apple category.
"Our focus is entirely on the consumer. We were very selective with the IP process, and we picked an apple that was going to be fantastic for the consumer from start to finish; it’s firm, it’s juicy, it’s sweet, and it will be available eight to nine months of the year, and it’ll be the same great experience for that time that it’s on the shelf."
In addition to its prospects for enhancing apple demand in Australia, Palise says Cosmic Crisp also has strong export potential.
"As the variety develops globally, the Cosmic Crisp brand is going to have a significant global presence. I would say from next year onwards there’ll be export, and there will be coordinated global marketing of this variety," he says.
Bred as a cross between the popular Honeycrisp and Enterprise cultivars, there are now 20 million Cosmic Crisp trees planted in the US where in just a few years it has gone from very little volume to becoming one of the country's top 10 varieties, with sales up 226 per cent year-on-year as the fastest-growing variety. This is despite the overall apple category's sales declining by 3 per cent.
According to a report in May by the World Apple and Pear Association (WAPA), stocks of Cosmic Crisp apples in the US had risen 59 per cent to 55,421 metric tonnes, compared to none at all for the same report in May 2020.
Another licensee of the variety is Europe's largest apple-marketing organisation, Italian cooperative VOG Consortium, which is rapidly increasing its production of the variety. Earlier this year, VOG's marketing manager Hannes Tauber told industry publication FreshFruitPortal.com that Cosmic Crisp had a 'heavenly taste' and was changing the game in terms of how apple marketers could communicate with consumers.
Red Rich Fruits' Palise says Cosmic Crisp's flavour is 'out of this world' and is set to 'reinvigorate' the Australian apple category. The company also grows pears, citrus, mangoes, berries, stonefruit including peaches, nectarines, plums, apricots and cherries, and a wide range of citrus from lemons to different mandarins and oranges.
"Apples is our biggest category, so we’ve been working to develop a hero product in that category," the director says.
"We’re doing a heap of IP varieties in the other categories, but from variety selection to actual commercialisation, it’s a long road. We’re well down the track in citrus but it takes five to seven years to develop some of these varieties."
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