The Packer’s National Editor Tom Karst chatted on Dec. 29 with Neal Carter, president of Okanagan Specialty Fruits Inc., Summerland, British Columbia. Read the entire chat on the Fresh Talk blog.

Okanagan Specialty Fruits is seeking U.S. Department of Agriculture approval for domestic growing and marketing of Arctic, a genetically modified apple variety the company said does not brown when sliced.

11:11 a.m. Tom Karst: Where are you now in the process of bringing the genetically engineered apple to the market?

11:12 a.m. Neal Carter: We’ve got a lot to work to do. The Arctic apple — several events, or varieties of Arctic golden and Arctic granny are currently with USDA APHIS for deregulation. From there some small plantings will get started and it will get rolled out to the commercial arena three, four, five years from now. We had quite a bit of media attention this past month starting in early December but nothing is happening in the short term — it is all pretty long term.

11:17 a.m. Karst: How big of inroads can you eventually make among fresh-cut processors?

11:18 a.m. Carter: Because of the GM issue, we know that some people will continue to use calcium absorbate, citric acid or a combination of the two in making their apple slices because they are wary of the perception in the market place, but I think there will be people who will try this.

11:49 a.m. Karst: How do you tell your story? How do you win the battle of public opinion?

11:49 a.m. Carter: I like to define our company as (a) grower-supported, family-sized company, so we don’t exactly have a large communications or public relations department. So we are a small company tackling a pretty big undertaking. We have a lot of people who want to succeed and are willing to help us with that, and of course we are working with communication and public relation people to help. I think coming into 2011, I think probably one of our biggest undertakings is that as we move toward the public comment period for the Arctic apple submissions, we will have press releases and information packages we will put out in advance of that.

The current media thing has caught us a little by surprise. It happened six or eight months prior to when we thought it would happen, so what we’re trying to do now is wait and let it turn its course and then go back to our original plan and try to regain our own proactive approach to how we will protect our message and value position.

One of the things that we have been able to identify is that having people experience this apple is a huge part of our communications strategy. Once somebody has held an Arctic golden or granny in their hand and looked at it and says it looks like an apple and tastes like an apple, but the cool thing is that it doesn’t go brown, it is a pretty strong story and individual experience, and I think you will see (we) will be incorporating that quite a bit (in our message.)