Consumers want each variety to have a unique name, growers say
By DAN WHEAT
WENATCHEE, Wash. -- Washington State University's new apples need names before growers and companies will take to them, some believe. But a key player in their development is standing firm against that.
Jim McFerson is manager of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission, which has helped fund WSU's tree-fruit breeding program and has licensing rights to its new varieties.
McFerson wants to concentrate on developing good cultivars and stay out of naming and marketing fruit.
"It's the quality of the genetics and production rather than promotion and marketing gimmicks that will drive consumption," McFerson said a year ago.
WA 2 and WA 5 -- the patent names of the new apple varieties -- might each be known by several names and be marketed in various ways, McFerson has said.
The commission is creating a separate nonprofit corporation that will manage evaluation and distribution of the WA 2 and other new tree fruit varieties, including cherries, from WSU breeding programs. The corporation would manage everything short of commercialization, McFerson said.
But WSU tree fruit breeder Kate Evans said she thinks "the whole industry would like us to name them something." She said the commission and WSU are discussing naming them and how they might be marketed.
McFerson said that's not the case.
Pete Van Well, president of Van Well Nursery in East Wenatchee, said names is "kind of a touchy subject with the research commission and some of us."
There needs to be one name for each new apple variety for recognition, so consumers know what they are getting, Van Well said.
It could be difficult to market a variety that goes by different names. Whoever is first to market it could have an unfair advantage if they have an exclusive name, he said.
McFerson said there's no way to know that will happen but that the fruit industry wins by having new cultivars. He said he doesn't think there's industry consensus on wanting names.
Evans said she's had a lot of feedback from those who want names and trademarks.
Van Well said perhaps one or two companies should have exclusive rights to pack and sell the new varieties until there is sufficient volume.
"There will be a lot of growers with a small number of apples, and if they take them to several different warehouses no one will have the volume to do anything," he said.
Growers and companies have held back on buying the WA 2 because they still have lots of questions, Van Well said.
"It's kind of up in the air right now," he said. "Everyone is kind of confused on this thing yet. We don't know if the rules (on distribution and fees) they (the commission) put out a year ago are hard and fast or just thoughts."
McFerson said they are guidelines, subject to change to be responsive to the industry.
But, he said, what won't change is equal access to new varieties by growers who have paid commission dues.
Evans said rules in contracts are firm but that some things like the naming and marketing likely will change.