By Dr. Ines Hanrahan and Mackenzie Perrault, Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission (WTFRC)

In 2012, we started a survey to determine the availability and quality of Honeycrisp apples in local Yakima grocery stores throughout the year. We wanted to find out how long Honeycrisp would be on the retail shelfs, but more importantly if the eating quality would be adequate? At the start of this project, visits were done once a year.  Eight supermarkets were visited in early springtime of 2012 to evaluate supply, external quality, and eating quality. Only six stores actually offered Honeycrisp apples from the 2011 harvest that late into the storage season.  As supply of Honeycrisp increased, we adjusted the frequency of visits as well as the observation focus points. Surveys have continued through 2016.

Taste of fruit:

One of the main aspects of this survey was to determine the eating quality of Honeycrisp apples stored late. In WTFRC funded Honeycrisp storage experiments, we had noticed an increase in flavor variation, the longer fruit remained in storage. It is well established that repeat purchases of apples decrease if consumers had an unsatisfactory eating experience.  To determine the flavor profile, we cut fruit and a minimum of two tasters ate a piece. Tasters recorded flavor values on a scale of 1-3 (3=variety specific Honeycrisp flavor/good flavor, 2=bland flavor, 1=off flavor). The graph below shows the percentage of fruit tasted with good flavor in March. Over the observation period from 2012-2016 we have recorded variable amounts of good flavored fruit sold in local stores (range: 0-43 %). In general, fruit with good flavor is rare in spring. This is important considering that optimum repeat purchases would be achieved if most people would have great tasting fruit available for purchase all the time (aka 80-100% of fruit purchased with good flavor).

Figure 1: Ratings of good flavored fruit (8 stores total) for Honeycrisp purchased in Yakima area supermarkets between May 2012 - 2016.
Figure 1: Ratings of good flavored fruit (8 stores total) for Honeycrisp purchased in Yakima area supermarkets between May 2012 – 2016.

*The years shown resemble the prior year’s harvest season (Ex: 2012 fruit are from 2011 harvest season).

We combined the ratings for bland flavor and apple flavor to develop an “acceptable” flavor rating to more closely mimic what consumers may find acceptable (or at least not off putting).  Figure 2 shows an increase in acceptable flavor in March within the past four storage seasons (42-85%).

acceptable flavor march
Figure 2: Ratings of acceptable flavored fruit (8 stores total) for Honeycrisp purchased in Yakima area supermarkets between May 2012 – 2016.

*The years shown resemble the prior year’s harvest season (Ex: 2012 fruit are from 2011 harvest season).

Most Honeycrisp purchased for the survey had a nice visual appearance, but flavor profiles varied immensely. In Figure 3, you will see that these three different apples have very similar appearances.  However, they are not similar in all aspects.  In fact, they vary in taste from one end of the scale to the other. This shows that Honeycrisp apples might be externally appealing to the consumer but the eating experience could have a negative effect on their choices to continue to purchase this apple.

Figure 3: External and internal comparison of Honeycrisp apples with various ratings for taste.
Figure 3: External and internal comparison of Honeycrisp apples with various ratings for taste.

Fruit availability:

As shown in Figure 4, the availability of Honeycrisp apples differed from year- to-year and month-to-month.  Initially this variety was thought to not store beyond Christmas. As early as 2012, some stores carried fruit until March, and by 2016 fruit was available year-round in local stores (Figure 4).

As we continued our survey, we adjusted the amount and focus of visits in order to catch pertinent information.  For example, we wanted to know when exactly the available fruit started to come from foreign suppliers instead of local ones. In early June of 2015, there were Honeycrisp apples available to local consumers from Chile.  The majority of fruit were still straight out of our local supply except for the summer months. At least one store carried Chilean Honeycrisp apples that year. In 2016, we observed fruit from Chile in Yakima based grocery stores at the beginning of August in at least one store.

Figure 4: Percentage of Honeycrisp available (8 stores total) for purchase in Yakima area supermarkets within 2012 - 2016.
Figure 4: Percentage of Honeycrisp available (8 stores total) for purchase in Yakima area supermarkets within 2012 – 2016.

*The years shown resemble the prior year’s harvest season (Ex: 2012 fruit are from 2011 harvest season).

Figure 5: Range of off flavor to good flavor through the season, compared year to year.
Figure 5: Range of off flavor to good flavor through the season, compared year to year.

*The years shown resemble the prior year’s harvest season (Ex: 2012 fruit are from 2011 harvest season).

Summary:

In summary, Honeycrisp are now available year-round in local stores. Consistently good eating quality in the second part of the storage season (February – August) remains of concern (see Figure 5). If consumers are having inconsistent eating experiences from good to off flavor, repeat sales could be impacted negatively. It appears that this issue has remained a constant struggle over the past five storage seasons.

Contact:

Ines HanrahanInes Hanrahan

hanrahan@treefruitresearch.com

 

 

 

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