U.S.: Chelan Fresh markets first commercial crop of home-grown Rockit apples

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U.S.: Chelan Fresh markets first commercial crop of home-grown Rockit apples

Washington State-based pome fruit and cherry company Chelan Fresh has been enjoying a successful first commercial season of locally grown Rockit apples, with inaugural exports due to take place this week. 

Chelan Fresh marketing director Mac Riggan (right)

Chelan Fresh has been importing the New Zealand-bred mini apple over the past two years, working in partnership with Rockit Global Limited, formerly known as Havelock North Fruit Company.

Acting as the exclusive North American grower-marketer, Chelan picked its first fruit during the 2016-17 deal but as volumes were very small it waited until this season to begin sales.

"We learned a lot last year about how to pick it, how to put it in the bin and how much weight to put in it. It takes longer to pick a bin of these because they’re so small, so there is more of an expense," marketing director Mac Riggan told Fresh Fruit Portal at last week's New York Produce Show and Conference.

"It’s not as cheap as you may expect a normal small apple to be, but the eating experience is phenomenal, and with the consistency and the portability it really is in a center of its own."

Riggan said the small size makes the apple ideal for kids. The packaging also stands out from the crowd.

"We feature it in the [transparent plastic] tubes - we have a three-count, four-count and five-count tube - so it’s good for vending machines and it’s good for airports," he said.

"We also feature it in this three-pound shell pack, which we like to dub the 'millennial mum’s cookie jar', so you can go home, put that on the countertop, pop the lid, and kids can just eat out of it as they want.

"We’re seeing success with both of them, so we’re really excited about, this is going to really engage kids because they’re such good eating. It's a small apple they eat just like a larger apple."

Riggan noted the tube packaging seemed to have acted as a deterrent to sales in some cases, causing confusion as apples are not normally sold in that format, but he said Chelan Fresh was working to educate shoppers both on social media and in-store.

New Zealand product is brought into the U.S. from around April through August, with the domestic season kicking off in September.

Without enough domestically grown product to sell nationwide, sales this season have been focused on the North East, Southeast, and some on the West Coast.

"With people who have taken it they’ve been very surprised at how well consumers have embraced it. We’re excited about it," he said.

"[Interest has come from] everybody - we’ve sold it at stores in Florida who tell us that the elderly love it because it’s small, it’s easy to eat and it’s not over filling."

In total around 200,000 boxes are expected from the Washington harvest this year, with 10,000 boxes due to be exported this week.

Riggan said Chelan Fresh was adding enough new acres to keep up with demand as the business grows.


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