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Chelan Fresh tests new apples

Dan Wheat

Capital Press

A major Washington apple marketer, Chelan Fresh Marketing, is testing a small apple from New Zealand sold in convenient snack-portioned tubes and another variety that's an offspring of Honeycrisp.

CHELAN, Wash. — Chelan Fresh Marketing is test marketing a new, small apple from New Zealand and is developing a club variety it believes will be an improvement on Honeycrisp.

New Zealand’s Rockit is a cross between a crab apple and the rose series, where Pacific Rose came from. It was launched in New Zealand in 2010, bred to be small and contrary to most small apples is “fantastically delicious,” said Mac Riggan, director of marketing at Chelan Fresh.

“We ran into it at Fruit Logistica, the trade show in Berlin, a couple of years ago and decided to give it a try,” Riggan said.

Chelan Fresh is the marketing arm of Chelan Fruit Cooperative, Gebbers Farms in Brewster, Apple House in Pateros and Gold Digger Apples in Oroville. It is one of the four largest tree fruit marketers in the state.

In late May, Chelan Fresh imported its first 2,000 boxes of Rockit and distributed them to a few, select retailers across the nation for sales. Another 1,000 boxes arrived the week of June 16 and were likewise distributed.

They are sold three, four or five apples in a tube. Colorful tubes are labeled, “Rockit — Your Daily Fruit Burst.”

“The packaging makes you want to buy it, but the promise is delivered in taste. It’s great tasting, crunchy and sweet,” said Kathryn Grandy, marketing coordinator at Chelan Fresh.

The idea is convenient packaging as a snack item, Riggan said.

“It could take off huge,” he said. “Who would have thought we would pay for bottled water.”

Chelan Fresh has licensed rights to grow and market Rockit in North America. It’s planning to have some of its growers plant it next spring.

Chelan Fresh also is working on its own club apple, meaning a variety it will grow, control and market. So far it’s known only as CN 121, its breeding name but the company is working on a commercial name, Riggan said.

It’s a result of the company’s own breeding program and has Honeycrisp parentage, he said. It’s in the second year of limited testing at trade shows like Produce Marketing Association’s annual show where people have liked it, he said.

“It’s grower friendly, consumer accepted, good color, stores well and has exceptional flavor,” Riggan said. “It’s a little sweeter than Honeycrisp.”

Members of Chelan Fruit Cooperative probably will begin planting it in 2015 and the first fruit will be sold in markets in 2020, he said.

“It’s the first club variety we’ve owned the whole rights to,” Riggan said. “Our own co-op members would grow it to set our company apart from the competition.”

The company is testing other potential new varieties, he said.


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