Mar 13, 2023
Cosmic Crisp reaches new heights with top 10 listing

For the first time, the Washington State University-bred Cosmic Crisp apple joined the ranks of the top 10 best-selling U.S. apple varieties.

A review of Nielsen supermarket sales data by Proprietary Variety Management (PVM), the Yakima-based company contracted by WSU to commercialize the new variety, found sales and volume for the apple at new heights. From Sept. 1, 2022, to Jan. 31, Cosmic Crisp ranked 10th by volume and 8th in total sales value of all the apples sold in the U.S.

Other varieties in the top 10 at that time were Gala, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith, Fuji, Red Delicious, Pink Lady, McIntosh, Envy and Ambrosia.

Cosmic Crisp is the brand name for the WA 38 apple variety, originally bred at WSU’s Wenatchee research station in 1997. WSU researchers evaluated WA 38 against other contenders for more than a decade before releasing it to growers in 2017. The apple first went on sale to consumers in December 2019.

The Cosmic Crisp apple is exclusively grown in Washington state. Foreign producers are prohibited from importing the fruit into the U.S.

From September through January of this year, sales volume of Cosmic Crisp rose 174% from the same period the previous year, and dollar value of these sales grew 163%, to $41 million. At retail, the national-average price per pound, $2.41, was just 10 cents lower than 2021-22.

“It’s important to realize that new-season Cosmic Crisp didn’t go on the market until Dec. 1,” Kate Evans, WSU professor and head of its pome fruit breeding program, said in a news release. “We knew there would be rapid growth because of the number of trees that were planted and are now starting to produce their own fruit. What’s really promising is that prices have held steady even with the volume increase.”

Last fall, about five million 40-pound boxes were harvested — above a million boxes more than the 2021 crop.

“The fact that Cosmic Crisp has jumped into the top 10 best-selling varieties in just three years is a remarkable level of success and proves the rapidly growing consumer demand for this apple,” Kathryn Grandy, chief marketing officer of PVM, said in the release.

Regionally, the apple ranked eighth in sales in the western U.S., 10th in the South, 11th in the Midwest, and 14th in the Northeast.

“It’s not surprising Cosmic Crisp sales are strongest in the West and South, since that is where the variety had the earliest, broadest retail distribution,” Grandy said in the release. “We’re now also seeing very strong growth in the Midwest and especially in the Northeast — gaining 226% — as more retailers in those markets put Cosmic Crisp on the shelf and in their promotion plans.”

Production of the apple was up 28% this year, the largest harvest yet. Quality in storage has been outstanding, Grandy said.

Large, round, crisp and juicy, Cosmic Crisp apples have a rich red blush, dotted with starburst-like pores, called lenticels, which give them their “cosmic” name. The variety was specially bred for its excellent storability. The fruit maintains flavor and texture in cold storage; in fact, flavor benefits from time spent in storage. Cosmic Crisp apples are very slow to brown once sliced, making them ideal for charcuterie boards and other fresh-cut presentations.

WSU owns the patent on the apple as well as the Cosmic Crisp trademark, allowing a portion of the sale of each box to support scientific discovery at the university. Most of WSU’s apple breeding program, which develops new, improved varieties for Washington growers, is funded by WA 38 royalty distributions, which also support staff at research orchards. WSU scientists continue to study best practices for WA 38 horticulture, harvest and storage.

“Every season is different,” Evans said in the release. “We’re always thinking about production and postharvest science.”

— WSU College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences News

Top photo: Grown in Washington, the WSU-bred Cosmic Crisp apple is now one of the top-10 bestselling apple varieties in the U.S. Photos: Washington State University

Second photo: Kate Evans, Washington State University professor, was involved in breeding the Cosmic Crisp apple variety.

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