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SweeTango apple volume builds

Seven years ago, commercial trials began for a new apple variety out of the University of Minnesota which would be known as the SweeTango brand apple. Those trials went well, and the trees that were planted have reached maturity and are producing good yields. The next step is to see how well it holds up in storage before North American expansion continues.

“The trees are now mature, fruit is of excellent quality and brix levels are high,” said Tim Byrne, speaking about production of the SweeTango brand apple this season. “We've had an extra four or five weeks of packing on top of what we anticipated, so we're packing a lot of boxes this season.” Initial trials included only 45 growers throughout North America in 2007, and now the variety is grown in Washington, Minnesota, Michigan, New York in the USA and Nova Scotia and Quebec in Canada. Byrne estimated that they will pack around 415,000 boxes of the variety this season.

The SweeTango was developed at the University of Minnesota by David Bedford, the inventor of the Honeycrisp. He made crosses to see if he could replicate some of the characteristics of the Honeycrisp and combined those with traits from the Zestar. The resulting apple has the crispness and mouth feel of a Honeycrisp with a flavour profile that combines sweetness and acidity.

“The flavour is very complex in that it has a lot of sweetness up front but also some acidity to it,” explained Byrne. “It's amazingly crisp and juicy, and the bi-coloured appearance of a deep red over a yellow background is visually distinctive because of the large lenticels.” Pepin Heights Orchards signed a licensing agreement to sell the variety in North America and trademarked the apple under the SweeTango name. NBT Cooperative was formed in 2006 and works with several partners to grow and market the fruit. Stemilt is in charge of selling it in the Western part of the United States, Pepin Heights Orchard and All Fresh in Michigan handle the Midwest, Fowler Farms handles the Eastern part of the U.S. and Scotian Gold is in charge of all Canada. The varied growing regions and marketing arms of the deal ensure that there's a consistent supply of the apple, even if adverse weather affects production in one area, and that the fruit can be shipped to any customer in North America within two days.

The SweeTango competes directly with the Honeycrisp, in that they are both premium apples with distinctive flavour profiles. Although the SweeTango is a long way from moving the kinds of numbers that the Honeycrisp does, Byrne is confident they can increase movement of the SweeTango with aggressive promotion.

“If we gratify customers, we'll have repeat sales. But we also need to prove to retailers that we can generate good movement,” said Byrne. “We have enough trees to pack 650,000 cartons of fruit, but we're waiting to see how long it can last in storage before planting more trees.” The University of Minnesota has also licensed the variety to growers in New Zealand and Chile, and there are talks about bringing the variety to Europe, so there is potential for further expansion.

For more information:
Tim Byrne

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