- Bill Howell, a Washington state farmer and retired university researcher, has created two new red-flesh apple varieties from Honeycrisp and crab apples, according to Capital Press. One variety is called Lucy Rose, which has red skin and is sweet and crunchy with a hint of berry flavor, and the other is Lucy Glo, which has yellow skin and is both tangy and sweet.
- Commercial sales began in 2018, and this past year's crop is already sold out, the agricultural publication reported. Chelan Fresh in Chelan, Washington, and Stemilt Growers in Wenatchee, Washington, are licensed to grow, pack and sell the new apple varieties.
- Howell told the Capital Press the limiting factor for the Lucy apples is locating sufficiently cool, high-elevation areas to maximize the fruit's color and quality. "Ultimately, we are all trying to grow the apple market," he said. "I hope that with the uniqueness of red flesh and flavor that we can get per capita consumption of apples up a bit."
Despite the apple's relative popularity and the appearance of more varieties in recent years, per capita consumption in the U.S. has declined. Statista reported fresh apple consumption dropped from a high in 2016 of 19.15 pounds per person to 16.91 pounds in 2018. Even so, processed apple ingredients and products containing them seem to be doing well, and Esarom recently predicted apple would be the top flavor for 2020 due to its range of tastes and applications.
These new red-flesh apple varieties have already created a lot of excitement in the marketplace as something new and different, according to Tim Evans, general sales manager of Chelan Fresh, which markets them. He told the Capital Press the apples are selling at high-end prices, with a couple thousand boxes sold from the initial 2018 crop and approximately 8,000 40-pound boxes from the 2019 crop already gone.
This latest innovation joins a variety of others that could bring more consumers back to apples. Fresh apple consumption may have been impacted by fewer available choices back in the 1980s, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Washington, which produces most of the apples in the U.S., was growing a lot of Red and Golden Delicious at that time, and Washington State University horticulturist Bruce Barritt thought new varieties should be developed.
Barritt crossed a Honeycrisp with an Enterprise and came up with an attractive and disease-resistant variety that also had a longer shelf life. After more than 20 years of development, that apple, known as the Cosmic Crisp, arrived last month on retail shelves and is making waves with a marketing budget in excess of $10 million.
The Arctic apple, which is genetically modified to resist browning, has also sparked attention since it debuted in 2017. The supply has ramped up enough to support expansion into foodservice as well as increased retail availability.
The Lucy Rose and Lucy Glo will face increased competition from these other apple innovations with unique features. Consumers may not always buy apples based on brand, but they may be willing to try a new variety that offers both crispness and flavor, particularly if they've heard about it beforehand. Two million boxes of Cosmic Crisp apples are expected to be sold this year, up from 450,000 in 2019, so aggressive marketing of the new variety and some positive consumer feedback have likely had an impact.
It's possible that demand for the new Lucy apples will jump due to low availability after the most recent crop sold. The uniqueness of the red flesh could attract consumers to give it a try. While shoppers are waiting for the 2020 harvest, other newer apple varieties are appearing in the marketplace — including the Envy, Juici, Koru, Opal, Piñata, Rave, Rockit, RubyFrost, SugarBee and SweeTango — and curiosity alone may boost per capita fresh apple consumption this year.
If it does, it could be time for researchers to turn their attention to other popular fruits that are endangered. Banana supplies are threatened by a fungus spreading in South America, and orange availability faces problems from drought, fires, citrus greening and other diseases. The USDA has recently developed new types of spinach and strawberries, so it's possible the agency will work with the produce industry to help guarantee supplies of fruits and vegetables that may be in trouble.