KENNEWICK, Wash. — Developing a marketing plan and funding for it are among the tasks remaining as the Washington apple industry prepares for the first sales of Cosmic Crisp apples in two years.
Kevin Brandt, vice president of Proprietary Variety Management in Yakima, Wash., was asked about the marketing budget for Cosmic Crisp at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association annual meeting in Kennewick.
“We don’t know at this point. We understand it needs to be a large roll-out. We know that takes money. We’re looking at grants,” Brandt replied.
His father, Lynnell Brandt, president of PVM, which was hired by Washington State University to help manage commercialization of the new state apple, said a marketing advisory committee is working “toward consensus” for a marketing plan and that all options, except probably new grower assessments, are being looked at for funding.
Money is needed for the first few years of the launch but as sales volumes increase companies will have revenues to augment marketing, Lynnell Brandt said.
Five marketing entities that handle 80 percent or more of the state’s apple marketing are working well together on the committee despite being competitors, committee chairman Robert Kershaw, president of Domex Superfresh Growers in Yakima, has said.
With 629,000 Cosmic Crisp trees planted in the spring of 2017, 5.8 million ready for planting in the spring of 2018 and 5.2 million to be planted in 2019, Brandt estimates 200,000, 40-pound boxes of Cosmic Crisp will go to stores from the 2019 crop, 1.9 million in 2020, 5 million in 2021 and 9 million in 2022. Production may reach 15 million boxes in 10 years.
Most of the plantings will replace older strains of Red Delicious, Gala, Fuji, Golden Delicious, Braeburn, Cameo and Jonagold, Brandt said.
PVM will help develop and coordinate the marketing plan with advice from the advisory committee, Brandt said. The first major crop in 2020 is the target date for having a plan in place, he said.
A subcommittee is working on grading standards that may be adjusted after the first few years of juvenile fruit.
Cosmic Crisp was bred from Enterprise and Honeycrisp apples 20 years ago by WSU apple breeder Bruce Barritt at the WSU Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center in Wenatchee. It rates high in flavor, color, storage and resistance to disease and disorders. The industry believes consumers will like its sweet, tangy flavor more than that of Honeycrisp.
Washington leads the nation by far in apple sales at $2.4 billion annually. Such a huge ramp-up of a new variety has never been tried before.
The planting of 12 million trees in three years has been estimated as a collective industry investment of $275 million to $550 million. A 10 million-box crop of Cosmic Crisp could gross $300 million to $500 million annually.
Desmond O’Rourke, a retired WSU agricultural economist and world apple market analyst, said there may be too many other apples of Honeycrisp heritage on the market in five years.
“I don’t think so. Consumer response is extremely good to that type of apple. There is no reason to believe that we are coming close to saturating that aspect at all,” Brandt said.
Costco likes Cosmic Crisp and has a “spot open on the spread sheet for it,” Keith Neal, a Costco buyer, told growers at the meeting.
Chris Willett, quality control and packing manager for T&G Global in Wenatchee, told growers the anticipated, unprecedented ramp-up is “daunting,” that it is “difficult” to launch marketing that quickly and that consumption will only grow so fast.
“The question is will other varieties move away fast enough. Quality has to be there and the right price,” he said.
Brandt said good branding is vital and that 38.5 percent of produce is branded and the percentage is growing because it increases revenues.
“Branding is a name, a term, a design or symbol that differentiates a product. It can be a picture or name recognition. Strong brands drive consumer traffic and deliver a promise,” he said.
Consumers are willing to pay more for a branded product because it guarantees consistent quality, he said. The Nike shoe symbol is an example, he said.
PVM has trademarked the name Cosmic Crisp and is applying for a logo trademark. It likes a logo developed by Blind Renaissance Inc. in East Wenatchee showing the name in a galaxy of stars but has not made a final decision on it.
The logo would be the dominant feature of all packaging and PLU (price look up) stickers with the Washington apple logo as a secondary element, Brandt said.
A database system will track tree sales, licensed growers and packers, fruit sales and royalties to help in marketing, he said.