Final Analysis: Core Competency

Will Cosmic Crisp be the next apple of our eye?
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Have you heard about Cosmic Crisp? It’s not a breakfast cereal. It’s not related to an outfielder for the Oakland A’s.

It’s a new apple crafted by fertile minds at Washington State University. Seems they introduced a Honeycrisp to an Enterprise and, well, you get the picture. Candlelight. Merlot. Barry White on the iPod.

The resulting spawn is an apple that’s “sweet, tangy [and] crisp,” according to publicists for WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human and Natural Resource Sciences (CAHNRS). It’s also juicier than a Shakira video. Something to do with larger cells bursting in your mouth when you bite into them. At the risk of going all Fifty Shades of (Crimson and) Grey on you, Cosmic Crisp is “remarkably firm … [and] has a rich red-purple color over a green-yellow background and is speckled with lenticels.” 

I think I’m blushing.

Turns out that lenticels are tiny, yellowish “starburst” flecks on the skin of an apple. In this case, they come from Cosmic Crisp’s “father,” the noble Enterprise apple. WSU liked alluding to these starbursts (and Star Trek, too?) by introducing “cosmic.” The “crisp,” of course, comes from Honeycrisp, one of the most popular cultivars in the history of apple growing. 

Cosmic Crisp won’t hit the produce section of your supermarket for five years, so you’ll just have to take WSU’s word that it just might be the best eating apple since the Garden of Eden. The marketing of Cosmic Crisp is nothing if not all out because, without marketing, an apple is just an android. In fact, here’s how the university frames its unveiling of Cosmic Crisp.

“In the past, a public university would simply announce a new variety as available to growers and then hope for the best. In today’s highly competitive marketplace, the introduction of a new apple requires a marketing plan with experts and advocates helping it win a position alongside existing varieties on grocers’ shelves and ultimately in shoppers’ grocery carts.”

Fruit Punch. With better marketing, WSU hopes Cosmic Crisp fares better than its predecessors.

To that point, WSU has created other apples but has never named them beyond the sexy identifiers WA 2 and WA 5. (Cosmic Crisp was WA 38 before getting its new name.) “WA 2 and WA 5 have never been formally ramped up for commercialization the way WA 38 has been,” says Jim Moyer, associate dean for research at CAHNRS, “in large part because the exact niche for each variety in the marketplace has not been identified.”

Last year, Kate Evans, director of WSU’s apple breeding program, told Growing Produce, an online publication, that WA 2, a cross of the Splendour and Gala apples, hasn’t seen much interest from Washington growers. “They say it’s because of how it was released,” Evans said. “It was confusing and there wasn’t a dedicated route to market.” 

WA 5, an offspring of Splendour and Co-op 15 (developed by Purdue University, Rutgers University and the University of Illinois), also got little promotional push and Evans acknowledged, “We haven’t done anything more with it.”

And so the commercialization begins. With Cosmic Crisp’s unveiling, WSU won’t divulge what other names it considered after testing possibilities on focus groups and consumers. A spokeswoman says the university wants to save runners-up for possible future use.

Can’t say I’m nuts about the name Cosmic Crisp, but time will tell. In any case, the WSU apple folks might want to call in the WSU Creamery people for marketing advice. Cougar Gold, WSU’s world famous cheddar cheese, has had a nice run. Why not a WSU apple named Cougar Bold? With the right endorsement deal, Adam and Eve might come out of retirement. 

John Levesque is the managing editor of Seattle Business magazine. Reach him at john.levesque@tigeroak.com.

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