Harvests for the 2017 US crop of SweetTango apples are underway in orchards from key growing areas like New York, Washington, Wisconsin, Michigan and Minnesota. Meanwhile, across the Atlantic a new European Cooperative has been formed bringing together growers and marketers to commercialise this early season apple.
The US branded apple is tipped to be a big hit on the continent, according to one of the people involved in a new cooperative which has been set up to create a “common approach” for European plantings and commercialisation of the variety with a ”big bite”.
Speaking to PBUK, head of variety innovation at the German Fruit Variety Consortium (DOSK), Dirk Zabel explains how the new joint partnership brings together four founding members; DOSK, Swiss supplier Geiser Agro, Austrian fruit grower Kröpfl and Italian apple marketer Melinda.
Apple marketers VI.P (Val Venosta Cooperative Association) from Italy, the Association of South Tyrolean Fruit Growers’ Co-operative (VOG) and Spanish fruit company, Nufri will also join the organisation.
“There are several people in Europe that want to grow the SweeTango apple and we joined forces to commercialise the variety throughout the continent,” he tells PBUK.
“We want to have a common European strategy so we need to have a person in charge to oversea all the projects and to set up quality standards that are valid for all of Europe, not only for certain partners.
“This new European cooperative will bring the partners together more and to have a common view and understanding on how to go ahead with this variety and this project.”
Geiser Agro’s fruit division manager, Jürg Burri, has been appointed as the group’s coordinator. He will have responsibility for overseeing the successful introduction of the variety.
Plantings & production gathering steam
Following on from increasing popularity of SweeTango in North America, the Honeycrisp and the early-ripening Minnewasheta hybrid –– which was originally developed by the University of Minnesota in 2000 and first sold in the US in 2009 –– has been gaining interest from European growers for several years.
The cooperative marks the next step in the variety’s commercialisation as plantings begin to come online and mature.
“We have several partners from some big players in the industry. There will be significant production coming out of Germany and there are already some plantings in Switzerland and there will also be platings in Italy from Melinda,” Zabel adds.
“We will have the very first fruits from German plantings around 2020 so this is a few years down the line. From a German perspective, we do not need to push our PR campaigns right now as we are setting up the structure of the group.
“At the moment we are working hard on the marketing side, this is nothing that the consumer will see right now. We need to prepare the next seasons when we have more and more fruit available.”
Strong growth is expected across Europe in the coming years as the variety is considered unique in terms of taste and texture as well as having good opportunities as an early season fruit.
“It’s a great apple for sure. However, it’s not an easy apple for the grower so we have lots of work to do. We need to make sure that the apple will be a high price apple and we also need to make this project sustainable.
“It’s not just about having a new apple but having a long-term project for everybody.”
With so many varieties on the market, PBUK asked Zabel what makes SweeTango stand out?
“The most striking features and characteristics are its taste and texture, that is what makes this variety stand out. It has a unique bite; when you bite into this apple, you will remember it,” he says.
The sweet and tangy flavour of the variety alongside “a very loud crunchy bite” are some of the key factors that Zabel believes will lead to a very successful European production and commercial project over the next few years.
“What is also quite different compared to all the other apples is that the SweeTango is early in the season and with its unique attributes, we hope to convince more European consumers to eat more apples with this excellent variety and therefore push up overall consumption.”