Fresh NY apple varieties hit U.S. shelves after more than a decade in the making
Dr. Susan Brown is the New York State apple breeder behind two new varieties, SnapDragon and RubyFrost, now on sale in the U.S. It took 11 years for her work to come to fruition for growing commercial volumes, but that's ‘rocket fast’ according to the scientist who spoke with www.freshfruitportal.com about her pride and sense of satisfaction at seeing her work come alive and licensed for release by New York Apple Growers (NYAG).
"When I was first sent a picture of the first pack-out, seeing my fruit on the line and seeing it in the grocery store gave me a pretty amazing feeling and an enormous sense of happiness and fulfillment," Brown told www.freshfruitportal.com.
"I’m a breeder first and foremost and knowing that my two apples can now be enjoyed by people is absolutely wonderful."
Dr. Brown's SnapDragon and RubyFrost journey started around 2004 when she first began crossing experiments to produce both apples. She is a master of the apple breeding art form in her roles as director of the New York State Agricultural Experiment Station (NYSAES) and Associate Dean of Cornell University's College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS), as well as a member of research group RosBREED.
The apple breeding program at Cornell is one of the largest fruit breeding programs in the world and Brown's objectives include developing superior varieties for the apple industry with unique flavor profiles, exceptional crispness, enhanced storage and shelf life, whilst incorporating resistance to disease and pests.
"The RubyFrost is a hybrid of a Cornell variety called Autumn Crisp that was known for its low flesh browning after cutting and it was crossed by Braeburn."
"I wanted to study the genetics behind the reasons to flesh browning but also vitamin C content because both those varieties have a higher vitamin C, more than many commercial varieties.
"Interestingly enough that population did segregate for improved resistance to flesh browning so RubyFrost is good in terms of fresh-cut, for desserts, but also for use in culinary dishes. It also has good level of vitamin C which is an added advantage."
The RubyFrost has a rich color with a definitive crisp texture and delicate balance of sweet and tart flavors, whilst the SnapDragon is a New York apple characterized by its 'monster crunch' and spicy-sweet flavor.
"SnapDragon was created to get the Honeycrisp type characteristics without the production problems so I crossed Honeycrisp by an advanced breeding selection that had very good quality and we planted out thousands of seedlings and as soon as we tasted SnapDragon, as a seedling in the fourth year, we immediately propagated trees for not only our research trials but for grower trials, and so SnapDragon was just 11 years from creation of the cross to commercialization. That’s rocket fast!"
Brown explains it's quite common for new varieties to take up to 40 years to bear commercial volumes of fruit.
"Within this timeframe we've also been doing a lot of marketing work and both are trademarked apples, with logos and they have catchphrases and they've done some very nice things in terms of marketing materials.
"It's been wonderful and we did some testing of the names, via a marketing group called Full Tilt, and as a horticulturist I was surprised by the name ‘SnapDragon’ because it’s a name of a flower, but then that name has really resonated with kids because of the dragon logo and it’s nice to hear that it’s a memorable name – I would have never come up with it.
"In 2014 RubyFrost was tested at several of our major wholesalers and they were very well received, and this year SnapDragon is being sold at one of our high-end retailers and RubyFrost will be in a number of different venues, so we are starting to get commercial volumes."
What can we expect from RubyFrost and SnapDragon in the future?
Brown is quietly confident her apples will be a big hit, not just in the U.S. but have the potential to be marketed in Europe and elsewhere.
The hunt is currently on for international partners.
"Both varieties are unique at the moment in as much as they are only grown by New York State growers but there are high hopes they will be commercialized internationally.
"RubyFrost is a very grower-friendly tree, not prone to pre-harvest drop. It has a good long harvest window so that is another advantage for our growers. It’s a fairly vigorous tree; the fruit is very crisp and juicy. It has a very good sugar acid balance.
"We have test marketed before now and consumer reaction has been very positive and we currently have 900 acres for both varieties planted in the U.S. Based on consumer reaction and happiness of the wholesalers, we anticipate there will be excellent demand for them both and we are looking at international partners for commercialization. We feel they would have international potential. It’s a really exciting time."
As the trees mature, more fruit is of course expected and so there are predictions for producing much higher volumes in future years to support an increase in demand.