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Cosmic Crisp needs a little more fanfare, retail

Fresh apple holdings are down (about 13% from last year), but you know what’s not?

Cosmic Crisp.

The managed variety grown only in Washington had an unusual introduction to the market last year. Truly “managed,” the apple was held back from distribution until it had sufficient supply for a major launch, and this year’s crop is even bigger, up from about 325,000 boxes to more than 1.4 million boxes in the latest holdings report taken on Dec. 1 by the U.S. Apple Association.

For perspective, Cosmic Crisp holdings now outnumber Empire, Braeburn, Cortland, Ambrosia, Idared, Jonathan, McIntosh, Crispin, Rome, Rome Sport, Spartan, Stayman, and York.

Golden Delicious reported about 4.5 million boxes in fresh apple holdings on Dec. 1, and Cripps Pink (aka Pink Lady) reported about 5.9 million boxes. It won’t be long before Cosmic overtakes these more established varieties.

The marketing push for last year’s launch was massive. Media covered the development and launch extensively. Launch day, Dec. 1 last year, was covered in most major media outlets. I saw enthusiastic displays and lots of fanfare.

This year? Not as much, with a whole lot more volume ready to hit shelves. Cosmic Crisp started shipping Nov. 23, just before Thanksgiving. I saw some blurbs in the trade media but not much else. Google Trends is backing me up here. Here’s the search interest from January 1, 2019 to today. This year’s trend line doesn’t have much going on.

Click here to dig around the full Google Trend line.

This isn’t so much of a critique of the PR outreach in year 2 as a “Come on, what’s up here, retail? We can’t have nice things if you don’t take care of them.” Over the weekend, local H-E-B had them in a prime spot, just as you walk in the main entrance, but there wasn’t a lot of fanfare.

Trader Joe’s in Austin was even less enthusiastic. Cosmic Crisp had about 6 inches of shelf space crammed in a corner.

Would you say that’s more like six or eight inches of shelf space?

But it was Walmart, my favorite punching bag (I say that with all the love in the world), that is getting the biggest slice of my ire.

I’ve nagged Walmart nearly my entire career about its produce departments. I wrote a column at least 10 years ago about SweeTango apples displayed next to ultra-cheap galas that earned me a speaking gig in front of a somewhat-hostile Next Big Thing Cooperative grower meeting a few months later. (We’ve since made friends, but I’ll never forget my nerves going into that room.)

One of these apples is not like the other…but can you tell? And why would someone pay 3x more without knowing?

This time, I stopped at the Walmart closest to my house to pick up a few things and guess what? I found Cosmic Crisp – these amazing new apples with a tremendous amount of flavor and so much potential – down on the bottom, in the corner, dumped in an RPC – MISLABELED as SweeTango – next to a display of shiny Red Delicious…for 3 times the price.

Yep.

Y’all. How are we supposed to convince consumers to buy something premium like this if we’re not even trying? The Red Delicious were $1 a pound and looked fantastic. The Cosmic Crisp were $2.97 a pound and looked great, too, but where’s the incentive for a consumer to trade up if:

  1. It costs 3x more.
  2. It’s not displayed in any way that highlights why there’s a premium.
  3. Red Delicious is down there catfishing you into buying it with its deceptively-pretty shiny, deep red color? Temptress!

Seriously, the Red Delicious looked so good I bought one. I bought some Cosmic Crisp, too, and we ate them.

Watch here to see how that turned out:

This isn’t to say there aren’t some retailers doing eye-catching displays to launch the season this year. Head over to Cosmic Crisp’s Instagram to see some great examples.

We have a rare opportunity right now to highlight something truly limited and seasonal, hoping to get people excited as the volumes continue to rise. I’d love to see even a fraction of the enthusiasm the McRib gets extended to the produce department.

Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor and resident apple snob for Blue Book Services.