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Chelan Fresh abuzz with SugarBee and Rockit

By
Kyle Eberth

“Washington has a really good crop of apples this year,” said Mac Riggan, director of marketing for Chelan Fresh Inc. The Chelan, WA-based marketing team supports more than 300 family-owned farms specializing in premium apples. “Year after year, the Washington apple industry is providing more and more of the emerging varieties, with these new varieties taking up a greater percentage of the overall crop volume,” he said. These modern apples make up almost 30 percent of the year’s yield.

“We will be driving awareness to our two club apples, SugarBee and Rockit,” said Riggan, both exclusive offerings from the company. SugarBee is a newer apple variety from the growers of Chelan Fresh, which includes Gebbers Farms and the Chelan Fruit Cooperative. An offshoot of Honeycrisp, the apple will have familiarity with customers. It is notably crisp, juicy, and has honey flavor to go along with its bicolor appearance. SugarBee is generating buzz among retailers and consumers alike, and Riggan expected it to be a top performer for years to come.

“With so many apple varieties out there, as a grower you better have one that stands out. SugarBee does just that,” said Chelan Fresh’s Julie DeJarnatt, director of retail strategy. “This apple has opened doors for us with new retailers and premium accounts, once they tried it for themselves.” DeJarnatt, said the apple has a seven-step effect on customers, who after sampling took on average seven steps before turning around to pick up a box of SugarBee.

Complementing this proprietary apple, Chelan Fresh drives consumer excitement with its SugarBee cider. This premium cider goes through a rigorous process, which starts by selecting only the best apples for blending. A tasting panel confirms it meets the high flavor standards of SugarBee apples with flavor notes of honey, caramel and molasses. The 64-ounce cider is ultra-pasteurized so it can be stored unrefrigerated. “To make the best cider, we started with the very best fruit,” said DeJarnatt, noting that demand is as high for the cider as it is for apples. “SugarBee is well on its way to being a trusted, year-round and omni-channel brand.”

As for Chelan Fresh’s other exclusive, Rockit, Riggan said, “it’s perfect for kids, and for the kid in everyone.” The apple is small, described as pocket-sized, is crisp and sweet, with a red blush color. These apples are perfect for parents to load up on, as they fit well in a kids’ lunchboxes, and serve as a quick snack at home, making Rockit a solid buy for retail customers. Additionally, kids will love the apple’s steady flavor profile. “Consistency creates a great value proposition for the buyer,” said Riggan. “Additionally, it’s got a great shelf life so you don’t have to keep it cold all the time. It’s an amazing apple, that’s selling really well.”

As an added bonus, the environmentally conscious customer will be excited to know that Rockit’s shuttle packaging is now made from 80 percent rPET, meaning, “instead of putting virgin plastic into the supply chain, we are repurposing existing plastic that consumers have already purchased and chose to recycle,” said Riggan. 

Sustainability isn’t just a trendy talking point, Riggan said, speaking of the industry as a whole, “we’re all working on that right now trying to figure out if we go biodegradable, or recyclable.” He cited the pros and cons related to both options, “with biodegradable one has to account for methane capture, regarding recyclables you have to realize that not everyone recycles. As an industry Washington is moving towards sustainable packaging, our industry is very innovative, nobody has their head in the sand, just hoping it will work out. Sustainable packaging is here to stay, people want an environmentally safe and convenient way to grab fruit and bring it home."

“You can’t just increase the cost of your packaging exponentially and pass that along to the customer,” Riggan continued. Herein lies the point of tension where consumer demand meets the reality cost of new packaging. “Consumers expect us to make it better and charge the same. The bottom line is we all need to be good stewards of the land, you can’t just do what you always did because you did it.”

Chelan Fresh said that volume is down a bit, with a number of older orchards being updated and replaced with their new premium varieties, another sign of innovation meeting demand. “In the past all you really had were reds and yellows,” said Riggan. “Washington growers have done outstanding work investing in and producing new and appealing modern apples.” As expected, SugarBee and Rockit volumes are up, and Chelan Fresh will have volumes of Pink Lady and Koru that will get them through the summer.

 

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