The Cosmic Crisp, which had been under development for some two decades through the Washington State University breeding program, received great national press prior to its December 2019 commercial launch. Stories highlighted its crisp texture and sweet flavor and its ability to retain taste and texture for many months, making it ideal for stocking grocery stores year-round.
In the fall of 2019, nearly 14 million Cosmic Crisp apples were available nationwide, a small fraction of the more than 5.3 billion fresh apples harvested in Washington state that fall. All the Cosmic Crisps were gone within months, and the first season wrapped up in February 2020, around the time the pandemic halted in-store food marketing, such as apple tastings.
Kathryn Grandy, chief marketing officer of Proprietary Variety Management, the Yakima firm that marketed Cosmic Crisp and several other new varieties: “It was a real shock going from $50 million of earned media to the media no longer talking about anything but the pandemic, the election and social unrest.”
The pandemic added to the apple industry’s ongoing challenge getting consumers on board with new varieties after decades of dominance by Red Delicious. Just two decades ago, Red Delicious made up nearly half of the Washington state crop. Now the variety is expected to make up just 15% of this year’s crop.