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Rainier emphasizes science in production of premium Honeycrisp apples

In an effort to distinguish itself in the premium apple category, Rainier Fruit Co. based in Yakima, WA, has focused its attention on the science needed to deliver a consistently high quality product to the marketplace.

"The Zirkle family applied their decades of apple-growing knowledge to Honeycrisp upon its public release in 2000," said Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing for Rainier Fruit. "Honeycrisp are widely regarded as the most difficult apple to grow, store and pack."

According to Ms. Wolter, Honeycrisp has quickly moved into one of the top five selling apples nationally.

"The skyrocketing popularity of this apple has cannibalized sales of other varieties, particularly Golden Delicious and Gala early in the season," she said. "Honeycrisp is uniquely different than any other apple currently on the market. It has tremendous crunch, it's very juicy and has an effervescent-like quality when you bite into it. It also has a great name that truly describes its qualities."

Rainier Fruit has made a significant investment over the last 12 years learning how to handle the variety beginning with site selection, harvesting methods and packaging handling.

"This early investment has aided our ability to produce fruit that stores well and eats great into late spring," Ms. Wolter said.

Because Honeycrisp are so heavily sought after in the marketplace, Ms. Wolter said that growers have responded with increased plantings of the variety.

"We can only hope that they've done their own due diligence in selecting the proper sites to grow this finicky variety," she said. "If not, we could quite possibly be heading into a period of lower-quality fruit hitting the marketplace. [Cripps Pink] apples provide a good analogy. Initially they were planted all over the state and acreage has decreased significantly over the last several years due to improper site selection leading to inferior quality."

Ms. Wolter compared apples to wine grapes, saying that each variety does best when planted in a micro climate that brings out the best of its unique qualities.

"As the highest-priced apple on the retail shelf, consumers expect only the best eating quality," she said. "When they don't get it, we hear about it. Fortunately, we also hear when we've done a great job growing a flavorful apple."

Ms. Wolter also said that new harvest and storage protocols have been developed for the variety as techniques used for other apples are not applicable with the Honeycrisp.

"The Rainier difference becomes even more evident on Honeycrisp sold February to May," she said.