What are your top three apple varieties?

I posed that question to members of the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group recently and found a wide variety of opinions on the subject.

In fact, from well over 30 responses from apple consumers, here is a list (in alphabetical order) of varieties that rated among the top three in at least one member’s list: Ambrosia, braeburn, empire, fuji, gala, granny smith, grimes golden, Honeycrisp, Jazz, jonagold, Kanzi, Lady Alice, mcintosh, Opal, Pacific Rose, Pinata, Pink Lady, red delicious, royal gala, Sonya, Southern Rose, starking, Sweet Tango, york and Washington.

Each variety was loved for its own reasons, whether sweetness, snap, tartness or a combination of attributes.
One member of the group believes that there has been too much emphasis on cosmetics in the evolution of apple varieties. One source commented, “We no longer grow some of the apple varieties that had the best flavor (e.g. Top Red) because we have marketed cosmetic perfection over flavor, and growers are paid based on the apple’s appearance rather than its taste. It is noteworthy that some of the best tasting newer varieties are bicolored, but even with those, growers get paid more for cosmetics than taste (thus the progression from Royal Gala to the newer higher-coloring strains.”

Another said that retailers must pay close attention to category management.

“The pressure for cosmetic perfection over flavor is great, and varieties change too frequently for consumers to identify with variety as a brand. It is common to find 15 to 20 varieties in stores today and consumers can’t identify with all. Supermarkets don’t understand the shrink that they are taking. Hopefully, a true category management process will open their eyes.”

I asked the group, “Is the ‘wow’ factor still possible with the development of new bicolor apples in a crowded marketplace?”

Members said there will be more winners and new favorites to come — but it won’t be easy.
“I don’t think it will be harder — I think you will see more work done crossing some of the very old heirloom varieties for new flavor profiles.”

Another member said marketing will make the difference:

“It’s all about marketing when the apples look the same to the consumer. There are even times when I can’t tell a Cameo from a gala, etc. Signage, sampling, etc. are critical to moving forward on new bicolor varieties.”