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Fred Searle

BY FRED SEARLE

Sunburst volume set to triple in second season

Waitrose to sell 1,500 boxes of new pink-fleshed variety as JV partners Richard Hochfeld and Frank P Matthews anticipate strong demand

Sunburst volume set to triple in second season

Sunburst apples

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British-bred Sunburst apples are back on the Waitrose shelves this month and volume is set to triple in the variety’s second commercial season.

Last season saw the first commercial crop of the pink-fleshed variety, with just 500 12kg boxes available, but this season sales volumes will rise considerably – around 1,500 boxes are expected to be sold in the next four to five weeks.

Bred and grown at NIAB EMR in Kent, Sunburst is a cross between Gala, lesser-known traditional garden variety Falstaff, and the purple-fleshed Pink Pearl. 

Conventionally crossed in 2003 and selected in 2006, Sunburst has an orange skin and its sweet taste has distinct tropical flavours, according to Scion Fruits, which is comercialising the variety.

The topfruit breeding programme, which is a joint venture between apple and pear supplier Richard Hochfeld and nursery Frank P Matthews, said the variety fits with rising demand from UK consumers for homegrown, sweet apples with a firm, crunchy texture. 

Sunburst is also very juicy, with high sugars, and has a medium-sized, conical shape. "The pink flesh shines through the orange skin to give it a unique appearance”, Scion Fruits said.

Company director Martin O’Sullivan is confident the variety will appeal to a wide range of consumers. “Unlike other pink- or red-fleshed varieties, Sunburst was bred first and foremost for taste, not the colour of its flesh,” he said.

“For an apple variety, the flesh is unusually high in anthocyanins, the compounds linked to many health benefits that have given fruits like blueberries and blackcurrants superfood status.

“We think its taste and texture compare favourably with any other apple and the consumer feedback from last year’s crop was excellent. This season, the appearance and taste of the fruit is even more consistent.”

NIAB EMR managing director Mario Caccamo added that he also saw big potential in the variety. “Plant breeding is about choosing the right parents to cross,” he said. “It can then take over 25 years until a new apple variety reaches the marketplace. 

“Fortunately, we sped up the process once we saw Sunburst’s unique colouring and were delighted this variety, with a true ‘wow factor’, has hit the supermarket shelves only 14 years from the first cross."

Scion Fruits has made a major nvestment in bringing volume to market and the company said its aggressive planting programme would see volumes "surge" in the coming seasons. “We have already planted a lot more trees in Kent and Herefordshire, and by 2024 we expect to have 200,000 trees in the ground in Europe,” said O’Sullivan.

“Ours is the only programme focused on British-bred topfruit and we have 35 varieties at various stages of development. Sunburst is hopefully the first of many new British apples we will introduce to the market in the near future.”

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