Sales strong as new apple gets cosmic response

By Mai Hoang

Yakima Herald-Republic

With just a few days left until the end of the month, many retailers in the Yakima Valley have already exhausted their stock of Cosmic Crisp apples, which officially launched Dec. 1.

The Yakima Fred Meyer store sold 100 Cosmic Crisp cases within two weeks, with each shipment sold within one or two days. Since then, the store has had little luck in securing additional stock from the grocery chain’s distribution center because of strong demand, said Dan Gwynne, store manager for Fred Meyer in Yakima.

Gwynne knew there would be a lot of interest, but was still surprised at the quick sellout.

“The need was way greater than anyone anticipated,” he said.

Finding a Cosmic Crisp apple has been a treasure hunt of sorts for consumers nationwide. Social media accounts for Cosmic Crisp have answered a flood of inquiries from consumers asking where they can buy the new apple.

Within the state, buzz for Cosmic Crisp, which was developed by Washington State University’s apple breeding program in Wenatchee, has been building in the last few years.

That same buzz has been growing nationwide as well thanks to a robust multimillion-dollar marketing push and stories from national media outlets, such as Time magazine and NBC News.

Demand has increased since the launch with a slew of positive reviews from various media outlets and consumers. The reviews have praised the apple’s crunchy texture and sweet-tart taste. Other reviews took note of the apple’s long shelf life.

Cassie Coltrane, a 27-year-old Yakima resident, purchased a few Cosmic Crisp apples at the Walmart store in West Yakima.

“I really enjoyed them and they were very juicy sweet apples,” Coltrane wrote in an email to the Yakima Herald-Republic.

A search for #cosmiccrisp hashtag on social media sites, such as Facebook and Instagram, yields posts from food bloggers and restaurant owners trying out the apple in various recipes.

For this season, demand likely will outpace supply. As of Saturday, about 140,000 40-pound equivalent boxes of Cosmic Crisp were shipped, according to figures from the Washington State Tree Fruit Commission.

That’s a sizable portion of the 340,000 Cosmic Crisp boxes the commission projects will be packed and shipped during the 2019-20 season.

“There’s a lot of excite­ment about the apple and a lot of demand from retailers,” said Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Commission. “It’s had really good movement.”

Building such a strong demand for this year’s crop is important with robust production growth expected in the next several years.

Cosmic Crisp is expected to jump to 2.1 million boxes in 2020 and reach upward of 21.5 million boxes by 2026, according to figures from Proprietary Variety Management, or PVM, the Yakima-based company working with WSU to promote the new variety.

“That’s a good place to start with a new variety,” DeVaney said. “Start with some consumer buzz and then increase production.”

Consumers do not seem to be deterred by the price, which has been in the high $2 per pound range.

“They were expensive, but I am an apple fan, so it was worth the try,” Coltrane, the Yakima resident, wrote about her Cosmic Crisp purchase. A high price is typical for new varieties, such as Honeycrisp, said Chris Brown, president of Wray’s Marketfresh IGA, a local grocery chain that has stores in Yakima and Selah.

Cosmic Crisp is a cross-breed of the Enterprise and Honeycrisp varieties.

While he’s seen some shoppers have initial sticker shock, that hasn’t deterred many from buying a few to try, Brown said.

Brown also faced challenges in securing Cosmic Crisp apples. It took him several weeks to find a supplier, but he managed to procure 90 boxes for Wray’s four stores. The apples sold out within a few days earlier this month.

He managed to get 60 more cases. Once that shipment sells out, Brown said he might have to wait until January to get additional Cosmic Crisp boxes.

“There will be a little void,” he said.

DeVaney, of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association, said the strong demand for Cosmic Crisp might end up benefiting other apple varieties.

“It gets the consumer trying new varieties and realizing there are different apples they can try,” he said.