Clive Goatham, technical manager Nigel Stewart and Tony Smith

Clive Goatham, technical manager Nigel Stewart and Tony Smith

A new variety is being touted as having the potential to become the best early season eating apple.

Zari was developed in Belgium by Better Tree Fruit and is already established in continental Europe, but will be sold in commercial volumes in the UK for the first time this season. It is being grown exclusively by AC Goatham & Son and marketed through Weald Marketing.

By the end of the 2010-11 season AC Goatham and its growers will have planted more than 70,000 trees of Zari. The bi-coloured variety will be sold exclusively by Morrisons, with the Bradford-based supermarket having been on the lookout for a variety that would differentiate its apple offer from those of its rivals. Trial volumes were sold by the retailer last year and were said to have been very well received by shoppers.

The first fruit of this season went into Morrisons stores on6 September, with in-store tastings organised for 11 September in the Maidstone, Strood and Canterbury stores. It will be sold in a branded polybag, loose and traypack.

So what makes the new apple so special? According to Tony Smith, commercial director of Weald Marketing, the Elstar-Delbar cross has very good storability and shelf life, maintaining its crunchiness and juiciness when stored.

Certainly, there are high hopes that Zari can quickly rise to pre-eminence at the start of the English season. “We had hoped to compete with Discovery but in fact we are now targeting it as the best early variety,” says Smith. “It’s a sweet, crunchy, juicy apple that targets the younger consumers.”

Indeed in mainland Europe the variety has won taste competitions and is seen as having great potential for future growth. “With the way it’s been received in Europe it would appear it has a significant chance of displacing other varieties because of the general quality of the apples,” says Clive Goatham, senior partner of AC Goatham. “The potential is boundless. We initially only had in mind that it would be the best early English variety. Since then, R&D in Europe has established that it has storability and it maintains its taste. So there’s a distinct opportunity for it to become a mainstream apple. It has what the English apple industry has been looking for.”

There is a feeling in some circles that Discovery is “not the apple that should be kicking off the UK season”, according to Goatham. Although Zari may not be able to take up that mantle - it comes in a week or two later than its rival with late August picking - it is “vastly superior” to Discovery, Goatham claims.

A further bonus from a production point of view is that Zari is a more premium apple, offering growers the opportunity to earn better returns. “In our opinion, the drive behind Zari’s development is to achieve a premium value for growers,” explains Goatham. And the possibilities will be enhanced if it can achieve mainstream status. “We are convinced consumers’ reaction will help it achieve shelf space through the season.”

The launch comes at a time when events are conspiring to make growers cautiously optimistic for the new season. With no southern hemisphere overhang, a lower European crop, and consumer and retailer interest in home-grown fruit, producers feel that returns and sales should be good this year. All the supermarkets are looking to secure a greater share of home-grown top fruit, and that can only be good news for the industry.

And with new varieties like Zari coming on stream, consumers have even more reason to buy into the apple category this season.