For the first time, the Washington State University-bred Cosmic Crisp® apple joined the ranks of the top ten 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 September 1, 2022, to January 31, 2023, Cosmic Crisp® ranked 10th by volume and 8th in total sales value of all the apples sold in the United States.
The top ten varieties included 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 their crops into the United States.
From September through January of this year, sales volume of Cosmic Crisp® rose 174%. The dollar value of these sales grew 163% from the past year, 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 December 1,” said Professor Kate Evans, head of WSU’s pome fruit breeding program. “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,” said Kathryn Grandy, Chief Marketing Officer of Proprietary Variety Management.
Regionally, the apple ranked eighth in sales in the western U.S., tenth 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. “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 open-air 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. “We’re always thinking about production and postharvest science.”