For the first time in 50 years, there’s a new apple variety predicted to be at the top of the harvest charts. Gala has overtaken Red Delicious as the leading variety by production volume forecast for the 2018 harvest season, marking the first time that any other apple has claimed the top spot in more than half a century.
Mark Seetin, director of Regulatory and Industry Affairs at the U.S. Apple Association, suggests that this milestone in apple history is the result of a diversifying market in the U.S., meaning consumer demand has branched out beyond the iconic Red Delicious.
“The decline in the dominance of Red Delicious in many ways is a result of newer varieties of apples aimed at the fresh consumption market,” says Seetin. “Consumers have been drawn to new varieties because they offer an even better ‘taste and crunch’ experience.”
Though the pattern in American apple consumption shows a growing interest in different flavor and texture profiles, Red Delicious remains at the core of the U.S. apple export market, accounting for about half of apple exports by volume.
Gala, the popular variety originating from New Zealand, is flavorful and snack-worthy with its sweet taste, crisp texture and mild tang. It’s a relatively easy variety to produce for growers, making it the ideal variety to rise to the top. But is the diversifying consumer palate that made Gala number one likely to have long-enough coattails to resonate throughout the 2018 harvest season? Which attributes and flavor profiles are becoming more popular in the next few harvests? Which textures, shapes and colors are poised to overtake other classic varietals? Let’s take a look.
New this year, Honeycrisp has landed a spot in the forecasted top five—edging out Golden Delicious— and has tremendous growth potential during the next few seasons. Last year’s Honeycrisp production reached 19.3 million, 42-pound cartons and is forecasted to increase to 23.5 million this year—a more than 20 percent increase overall. Honeycrisp is expected to rise to the third most grown variety (over Granny Smith and Fuji) by 2020.
Overall, USApple estimates the total 2018 apple crop will be 256.16 million, 42-pound cartons. In the top-producing apple states, Washington, New York and Michigan, here’s what we expect to see from the 2018 harvest:
Improved Fruit Size in Washington
According to a survey of Washington State Fruit Tree Association members, Washington’s production volume is forecasted to be down approximately 2 percent at 131 million boxes, though fruit sizing is expected to improve from 2017. Early varieties that are ready for harvest in September show exceptional quality. In Washington, the top varieties match the most grown varieties nationally: Gala accounts for 24 percent of production, with Red Delicious at 21.5 percent, Fuji at 13.5 percent, Granny Smith at 13 percent (though Granny Smith ranks third nationally) and Honeycrisp at nearly 11 percent.
A Healthy Variety in New York
New York growers expect a bountiful crop this harvest season as well, holding steady at 32.5 million cartons, with a range of sizes available after ideal growing conditions from bloom through August. Later varieties will benefit from a rainy August, and a frost-free bloom period means a sweet, delicious taste is in store. New York growers expect the Galas to be on the smaller side this year after a dry early season, but are pleased with the size variety overall from a marketing perspective.
Strong Recovery from 2017 in Michigan
Michigan’s apple growers have forecasted a harvest of nearly 28 million bushels—well above the 25.2 million bushel state average. With a favorable spring and a hot, hail-free summer, 2018’s growing conditions have brought a plentiful harvest—a 40 percent increase over 2017’s 840 million pounds, when growing conditions were significantly more challenging. 2018’s quality is expected to be a notable improvement, and early waves of Galas and other favorite varieties began shipping in mid-August, coming from 825 family-run farms across the state, according to the Michigan Apple Committee.
If you plan on apple picking this season, watch for fresh new varieties in your local areas and you may be surprised. Although production is still gearing up, EverCrisp®, RubyFrost®, SnapDragon®, SweeTango® and Cosmic Crisp®, to name a few, are upcoming apple varieties aimed at improving the ‘taste and crunch’ experience and can already be found in some markets.
With a beautiful variety of high-quality apples and a range of sizes in this year’s harvest, consumers have a lot to look forward to.