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Apples | Crop Report | Research and Development

Formulating with new apple varieties

June 5, 2020 | 3 min read

Thirty years ago, there was likely three apple varieties available at your local grocery store: Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, and Granny Smith. I remember a few others being there, but they were baking apples (Empire, McIntosh, etc.). I never really paid much attention to how the varieties of apples have changed until I started working at Tree Top. Even in the short amount of time I have been at Tree Top, the number of varieties a consumer can buy is mind boggling. When you go to the store, what apple do you feel like? Opal? Envy? Honeycrisp? There are probably at least 10 choices. My favorite is Ambrosia due to the balance of sweetness and acidity paired with the interesting flavor (fruity, floral notes).

The next great apple

Why are there so many different varieties? I had an economics professor long ago proclaim that every dollar you spend is a vote. It’s a vote for a company to continue to produce something good. It’s no different with apples. Apple growers typically grow for the fresh market (the grocery stores) and will plant varieties that will maximize their profits. Growers are searching for the next great apple that consumers will pay a premium for. For example, Honeycrisp has been a variety that has commanded higher prices at the store, which consumers have been willing to pay. I’m not sure anyone would be willing to pay $3.99 a pound for Red Delicious, but stores are able to move Honeycrisp at that price. What would you do if you owned a hundred acres of Red Delicious orchard? It’s not hard to imagine the effects of supply and demand on the apple market (see graph for details).

Measurable attributes

So what does all this have to do with Tree Top? The foundation of many of our products were created over ten years ago during a time when it was rather easy to specify a couple varieties to control the attributes of the product. Tree Top applesauce has been around well before any of these new varieties hit the grocery store produce section. Apples have measurable attributes, such as Brix (sweetness), titratable acidity (tartness), etc. Each apple variety has a particular range of these attributes that really make each variety unique. Granny Smith has low brix, but high acidity, whereas Red Delicious have high brix and low acidity. The newer varieties are trending with high brix and high acidity.

Formulating with new varietals

Recent varietal attributes and availability trends have made it difficult to consistently meet the legacy applesauce specifications. A couple years ago the Tree Top R&D team started a project to explore different applesauce blends. We were focused on consumer acceptability of the new blends, ability to source the necessary apples, and the ability to process the applesauce. Our sensory expert carried out several tests with consumers to determine how consumers felt about increasing the brix and acidity in our applesauce. As it turns out, as long as both sweetness and acidity are increased in proportion to one another, consumers actually prefer the new blend. This wasn’t entirely surprising given the success of varieties like Honeycrisp. Next we worked with our Manufacturing team to ensure that the applesauce was processed to meet our taste and texture expectations (we’ve had to make some small changes to the process to continue making awesome sauce). What will consumers notice? Nothing if we all did our job right. They will continue to enjoy Tree Top applesauce just as they always have.

This is just one example of how changing apple varieties have affected Tree Top products. We are undertaking similar projects on our juice, purees, and most of our product lines. It’s just a small glimpse behind the curtain of all the work that goes into Tree Top products. As you probably have heard, Cosmic Crisp is beginning to make its debut. We are already testing Cosmic Crisp in our processes and have even launched a Cosmic Crisp juice. The world is always changing and Tree Top is evolving to meet our customers’ needs.   

Tree Top produces a wide array of healthful fruit products from purees and juices to dried apples. To learn more about our product offerings, explore our products section. If you’d like more information about how the Tree Top R&D team can help you with development and research, contact our fruit ingredient experts at (800) 367-6571 ext. 1435.

If you’d like to try a sample, you can do that on our website. Go to Sample Request.

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