Smooth liftoff for Cosmic Crisp

West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, Wash., with his son, Jax, 13, and daughter, Maxine, 9, delivering Cosmic Crisp apples to Seattle’s University Village QFC store on Dec. 1.

WENATCHEE, Wash. — At one minute after midnight on Sunday morning, Dec. 1, a semi-truck with a load of Cosmic Crisp apples left a loading dock at Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee.

Three hours and 150 miles later it arrived at Seattle’s University Village QFC grocery store.

At 7 a.m., West Mathison, president of Stemilt Growers, and his family carried the first box of Cosmic Crisp into the store, where customers, some from Canada, waited to buy them.

A local television news crew was on hand.

Cosmic Crisp, developed over 20 years by Washington State University’s apple breeding program in Wenatchee, is a cross between Honeycrisp and Enterprise. It is the industry’s great new hope to replace Red Delicious, Gala and Honeycrisp as the state’s flagship apple and a top money maker.

“People were waiting in line. One guy bought an entire box and then came back and bought another one,” Mathison said. “The entire display, about 50 (40-pound) boxes was sold out by 4:30 p.m. It was supposed to last a couple of days.”

It was one of several ceremonial launches.

Apples were harvested in September and October but companies agreed to hold off sales until Dec. 1 to give the fruit time to properly ripen for the best flavor.

Only about 460,000 boxes are available in this first year of commercial sales. That’s out of a total state crop of 138.2 million boxes.

Consumer response is good on flavor and crispness and retail demand exceeds supply with all shippers getting plenty of calls, said Brian Focht, manager of the Washington Apple Growers Marketing Association in Wenatchee.

“We’re selling it around $1.65 per pound FOB. That’s the average. About $65 per box. I feel great about it. The launch couldn’t have gone any better. PVM did an excellent job of getting out in front of it with promotional materials and advertising,” Focht said.

Retailers are doing a good job at keeping the price to consumers moderate at $2.49 to $3.49 per pound, mostly at $2.99, he said.

Comparatively, Honeycrisp is wholesaling at an average of $35 per box, Gala at $22 and Red Delicious at $15.

Several ancillary products are being launched including Cosmic Crisp apple slices, juice, cider, chocolate and deep dish pie.

Proprietary Variety Management is a Yakima company on contract with WSU to manage commercialization.

From tree and fruit royalties, WSU and PVM are spending $10 million — averaging $2.5 million per year from 2019 through 2022 — to promote the apple, mostly through social media.

From Jan. 1 through Dec. 9 Cosmic Crisp received $47.6 million worth of free media, including a story on NBC Nightly News, Kathryn Grandy, PVM director of marketing and operations, told growers at the Washington State Tree Fruit Association annual meeting on Dec. 11.

The only negative reactions Grandy’s heard are some people saying they wanted a sweeter apple, more like Honeycrisp, and some complaints about a $6 per pound price for organic Cosmic Crisp.

Apples from three-year-old trees made up 60% of the crop release on Dec. 1. The remaining 40% from two-year-old trees will be released Jan. 1, Focht said.

A total of 82,000 boxes of Cosmic Crisp were sold in the first week and inventory likely will be sold and all shipped to retailers nationwide by the end of January and finished selling in stores in February, he said.

“We will see as we ramp up in volume in coming years if we can sustain this kind of momentum,” Focht said. “Right now it feels pretty good.”

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