There's a new type of apple apple being added to grocery store shelves this year, though it's been over 20 years in the making. Called the Rave, this new apple variety is a hybrid of the sweet and fresh Honeycrisp and an unreleased summer apple from Arkansas called MonArk. The result is a piece of fruit that's the best of both these apple varieties: super sweet, super crisp with a bit of tartness, and ready to eat at the end of summer, before apple season really kicks into high gear.
So how do you create a new apple variety? "It's not like you can just flip a switch and gather a whole bunch of ingredients," says Brianna Shales, communications manager at Stemilt Growers, the Washington company that is growing and distributing these new apples across the country, adding that there's a lot that goes into creating a new variety of apple, "and a lot of it is dictated by mother nature."
The Rave apple was created by David Bedford, a research scientist at the University of Minnesota who's responsible for also creating the Honeycrisp and SweeTango varieties. And though Bedford and his team use modern science and research techniques to help develop and test the fruit, the Rave apple isn't a genetically modified organism, or GMO. Roger Pepperl, marketing director at Stemilt, explains, "It's classic cross-pollination that happened from their great-great-grandparents. It's nothing different."
But because the new apple is a result of regular old cross-pollination breeding, it'll take some time for Stemilt to bolster its production. That's part of the reason why there's a limited supply in this first year on the market. As Shales explains, "You get what nature gives you. You kind of have to take all of it as it comes to you."
That limited availability isn't the only challenge the team at Stemilt has to face. Trying to convince consumers to try a new apple is an uphill battle in and of itself, especially when it costs $2.99 a pound. Since there are so many different varieties of apples already in the produce department, customers tend to stick with the apples they know. "People buy Red Delicious that grew up with Red Delicious," explains Pepperl because it's "what mom and dad fed them."
But these new Rave apples have some distinct advantages over other apples varieties that are available this time of year. August isn't exactly primetime for apples, but bad timing doesn't stop customers from reaching for the traditionally autumnal fruit in July and August. According to Pepperl, approximately "5 percent of the produce department is still apples in the summer, where it's maybe 7 percent in the other parts of the year." These summer apples, however, are "usually just a horrible experience," says Pepperl, describing them as "woody, dry, pulpy."
The Rave apple is Stemilt's response to this problem, since the apple starts ripening at the end of July, weeks earlier than most other apple varieties, and will be found on grocery store shelves starting at the end of August or early September, for about a month. (You can also find Rave apples on FreshDirect, if you don't do grocery stores.)
Ultimately, what the team at Stemilt is banking on is the fact that Rave just tastes better than other apples, especially those available in the late summer and early fall before the influx of apple season. "The big thing about this one is it tastes good," says Pepperl. "That sounds really basic, but I'll tell you there are some apples that taste good, but they don't taste that different." Shales adds, "Luckily if you have an apple that is unique in flavor and has an offers a good eating experience, one person at a time, you can chip away at that."
That seems like a tall order, if not just a marketing ploy, to create an apple that tastes so differently as to cause people to get excited, and I was ready to totally write off the Rave apple as just like every other apple I've ever eaten—because an apple is an apple is an apple, right? Wrong. But the texture of the Rave apple is noticeably different than most; it's juicy and crispy without being mealy. The Rave apple does taste differently, too. It starts out sweet like a Pink Lady and ends tart, like a Granny Smith apple. And yes, I did tell my coworkers about it, so I guess Stemilt's plan to dominate the late summer apple game is already starting to work.