Smitten Apple Expanding Across America
The state of Washington continues to see ramped up planting and increased acreage over the last several years of the Smitten variety. Originally a patented variety from New Zealand, in Washington, Barclay Crane, managing director of Pegasus LLC says trees are already planted or budded, leading to roughly 1,000 acres in 2019 and expanding steadily beyond. “Pegasus has an import program for NZ Smitten, which has been well-received in North America.” Smitten is a variety from the Plant and Food Research breeding program from New Zealand that introduced Jazz, Pacific Rose and Envy.
Grown across North America
Smitten is grown all over North America in favorable sites. There are approximately 30 sites in Washington currently coming into production with another dozen scheduled over the next two years. “In US plantings outside Washington, Michigan has approximately ten sites comprising about 100 acres planted - with similar numbers and acreage in NY either coming in 2018/2019 or existing,” Crane says. Expansion into Canada is also underway “Plantings are starting in Ontario and Quebec with acreage similar to Michigan/New York planned.”
The apple is currently available at Wal-Mart, Costco Canada, HEB, Loblaw’s, Target Superstores, Save Mart, Ahold, Kroger – multiple divisions including King Soopers/Fry’s, Albertson’s, Lund’s, Whole Foods, Supervalue and many independents.
Crane says Smitten has been generally grower-friendly with a few normal young-tree “warts” to work out. “Older blocks seem remarkably free of horticultural problems but we have had a few outbreaks of typical juvenile tree problems,” he notes, adding that another example of productivity is a young four-year-old block that produced respectively 75 and 70 bins per acre in the third and fourth leaf with minimal inputs and training on a standard vertical trellis. “We’re confident in the long run the variety is going to be low-maintenance and highly productive. It can be roughly similar to Gala in fruit size because of tendency to overset. That’s a positive in the long run, when thinning is managed size is similar to Gala/Red Delicious and the tree highly productive.” Even at this early stage Crane says they’ve seen production over 100 bins per acre.
The bi-color apple will never be marketed as a full red, and according to Crane that’s a good thing in the age of Millennials. “The obvious analogy would be Honeycrisp which would never win any beauty contests. Smitten, unlike Honeys (green) has a beautiful yellow background color however – which really sets off the red-striped cheek nicely.” The company says it views Smitten as a “Millennial-Friendly” variety sold on eating quality alone. “In that sense it represents a paradigm shift that started with Honeycrisp a decade ago,” says Crane. “We call it the Starbucksing of the Apple Industry – because of the parallel process that changed a 50-cent bland commodity into an exciting $5/cup cultural trend.”
Yields & eating quality
Yields were outstanding and eating quality “honestly out-of-this-world,” says Crane. “I told someone recently that people come up with new and original adjectives raving about the taste and especially the crunch/crispness of this extraordinary variety. I recently had a veteran banker spontaneously describe with great feeling how his first experience eating Smitten was ‘shearing off bites’ because of the wonderful texture of the fruit – along with a wonderfully deep, complex taste mixing high brix with aromatics and background tang.”
Price strong; sizes down
Prices have risen consistently higher, Crane states, because there’s been such demand. “We have not been able to meet demand – and it is coming both from wholesale and consumer levels,” says Crane. Even with sizing roughly two sizes down, similar to all other varieties in Washington this year – especially Gala he says, “which might be three sizes down. Because we thinned aggressively we still had the majority of fruit fall into the ‘money sizes’”.
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