The controversial Arctic Apple from Okanagan Specialty Fruits is set to appear on shelves south of the border next week.
The genetically modified fruit, which is engineered to resist browning when sliced, will be sold in 10 midwestern U.S. grocery stores throughout February and March as part of a test run. The commercial launch is slated for the last quarter of the year.
“The test marketing is really with a small volume of fruit from our September 2016 harvest,” said Neal Carter, the company founder.
That fruit has been sliced and packaged in 285 gram grab-and-go bags, and Carter said the quality is a game changer.
“They are fantastic,” said Carter, adding that this review is echoed among those who have tried the apple, as well.
“When you open the bag it smells like a fresh cut apple and they taste great— It’s very exciting.”
If all goes well with the test run, the reach of the fruit within the US will expand and supply will be bolstered.
“We will have at least 12 times more fruit this fall as our young trees get older,” said Carter.
The company was founded by Carter and his wife in Summerland in 1996. It was purchased in April of 2015 for $41 million and and Carter stayed on as president.
The fruit has a long and colourful history. It was approved in 2015 for sale in both the US and Canada. The fact that the fruit is going to market in the US before Canada is simply because that’s where they lined up orchards and packaging facilities first.
“We knew we didn’t have the bandwidth to launch the apple in two places at once,” he said.
“We will start in the US and as our volume ramps up we will learn a lot and we will turn our eyes to Canada.”
That won’t likely be for a couple of years, he said, and controversy may follow.
The BC Fruit Growers Association has already expressed a less than supportive view, claiming market backlash could affect overall Okanagan grower success.
“We regret that the US is approving the Arctic Granny Smith and Arctic Golden Delicious,” said BCFGA president Fred Steele, at the time. “The apple is considered a pure, unadulterated product, similar to milk. In a 2012 national survey of consumers, 71 per cent said they agreed there should be categories for food that should not be engineered. Our members would like the apple market to remain free of GM apples.”
This week Steele said that the BCFGA hasn’t changed that view.
Although the BCFGA didn’t express any concerns about the safety of engineered fruits their remarks about the consumer is telling.
That is something that Carter is noticeably bothered by, when asked.
“What we’ve worked on really hard is being transparent and working on education,” he said, adding that they encourage anyone with concerns to go to arcticapples.com and learn more.
“We encourage people to check it out…My wife and son and I are growers. We meet people who don’t know anything about the basic biology of apple growing let alone genetic engineering and before they get too critical about science, they should read some more information.”
While there may be some frustration with introducing the product, these are good times for Carter.
“We’re on a roll. It’s all a lot of fun and it’s exciting to share this product with consumers,” he said.