In less than a decade, the world’s only variety to be named by consumers has rocketed into the US apple market’s top ten. Now, the brand looks set to continue its stratospheric rise in Europe

Cosmic Crisp apples

Around eight years ago, no-one really knew Washington 38. That was our new apple’s scientific name. We had to find a brand name for it.

So I called one of my largest customers in the retail industry and asked them to help me. He said: “Yeah, apples are green, red or yellow.”

That was not much help. Instead, we went to consumers with samples from the orchard. They tasted it, and they felt the flavour and the feeling in their mouth. After a lot of sensory testing, we began to brainstorm names.

And somebody said, this apple is so beautiful and red, and the lenticels are like stars in the sky… how about the “cosmos”? Then we thought about the fact it’s a cross between the Honeycrisp and Enterprise varieties. Somebody suggested Cosmo Crisp, another said Cosmic Crisp.

We did a consumer panel and 95 per cent said this was a great name. It was the first apple ever to be named by consumers.

First the story, then the fruit

Three years later, I sat in front of growers and told them about Cosmic Crisp. They really needed a new apple, because Red Delicious was going away. We felt like this was the one.

Fast forward to today, and we have hundreds of family farms in Washington State growing this apple, investing millions of dollars. Their hopes and dreams of the future rest on its future success.

But first we had to tell our story.

We went across the US and met with journalists. We went to New York and saw Martha Stewart, the New York Times, and Nickelodeon, and explained to them that the breeder scored this apple five out of five on texture, colour, flavour, juiciness, and crispness. When you take a bite into it, the juices run everywhere. You hear the sound of that crispness.

So we told that story, and we explained that this apple was naturally bred, that it’s one of the only apples to have a mother tree, which still stands in Wenatchee, Washington. Journalists were captivated.

But we were selling an apple nobody had tried. We had no apples to share yet, because it was so new.

Our growers planted millions of trees. Then we promoted hard and found ourselves in Time magazine and on NBC. People wanted something happy and something aspirational and something new. In Cosmic Crisp, a star was born.

Kathryn Grandy PVM Cosmic Crisp

Kathryn Grandy, PVM

Like an iPhone launch

People were calling retail stores to ask when they would have the apples. On 1 December 2019, we shipped them across the country. I was at one retail store in Seattle at five in the morning, an hour before it opened, and there was a huge swarm of people waiting outside.

We asked: “What are you doing here?” They weren’t waiting for the new Apple iPhone. They wanted Cosmic Crisp, and had driven from Canada, Oregon and all over Washington to find it.

By noon, a truckload had been sold. Another was on its way. At four o’clock, all of those were sold out too. The excitement was phenomenal across the country and began to spread internationally.

In the US today, 21m apple trees have been planted in Washington State alone. It’s enormous, the largest launch of a single variety ever. And it has also been planted in ten regions of the world. We have phenomenal partners, like Vip and Vog in Italy. And we’re very excited about that.

Around the time of the the launch, people said: “Oh, we’ll see if this apple sells. Let’s see if you deliver on your promise.”

I can tell you, out of hundreds of apples sold in the US, Cosmic Crisp is now the seventh most-popular apple in the country. We now sell 8m boxes a year, have about 30 per cent brand awareness, and have distribution in about 18,000 stores – including Walmart, Costco, and Aldi.

Consumers love the apple, which has a passionate following on our digital media. We are the most engaged platform in the produce sector, not just apples. And a recent Nielsen retail study showed that our retailers across the US view Cosmic Crisp as their number one opportunity.

To launch this amazing apple around the world has been an absolute honour. To launch any apple is a grand experience, but with Cosmic Crisp it is a wonderful, magical opportunity. And for me and my team, it is an act of love.

Kathryn Grandy is chief marketing officer at US company Proprietary Variety Management, the master licence-holder for Cosmic Crisp.