The Honeycrisp Apple is an agricultural phenomenon. Consumers are paying double, sometimes triple, the price of more traditional varieties for the crunchy, sweet-tart fruit. While many think the apple’s high price is driven by its high demand, that’s not the case. It turns out that Honeycrisps are just really difficult to get from seed to shelf.
The Honeycrisp is unique in that it was bred solely for taste, not for easy growing, storing, or shipping, David Bedford, one of the original Honeycrisp breeders, told Bloomberg. Forty years ago there were only a few options for those who didn’t want to be stuck snacking on a soft, mealy apple. Thus, the Honeycrisp was born.
Bedford noted this apple variety didn’t catch on immediately, as the issues regarding growing and transport seemed to outweigh its unique crispness and sweetly acidic flavor. However, since its inception in 1977, the cult following created by the texture and taste of this apple has required farmers to succumb to difficult growing and transportation practices.
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Production of the Honeycrisp has doubled in the last four years and has become the fifth most-grown variety of apple. This isn’t a problem for a majority of orchards on the West Coast, but Northeastern orchards are struggling to keep up.
West Coast orchards are typically much larger than their Northeastern counterparts, and thus, they can handle bigger losses during growth and transport. With only 55 to 60 percent of Honeycrisps actually making it to the consumer, it is a deficit the smaller, more rain-prone Northeastern orchards can’t keep up with. These states are having to look across the country to source their apples, instead of buying local.
When it comes to the growing process, Honeycrisps require lots of attention. Flaws in the apple trees can lead to calcium deficits in the fruit, and blocked sunlight from massive branches can stunt fruit growth. Plus, their crisp, juicy skin makes them vulnerable to sunburn (and an enjoyable snack for birds.)
If an apple makes it to the ripening stage, stems have to be delicately removed, and the apples must be stored tempered at a mild temperature for 5-10 days, instead of going straight to cold storage like most other varieties.
That being said, farmers aren’t making more money off of Honeycrisp enthusiasts; consumers are simply paying for the apples that didn’t make it to the grocery store or farmer’s market.
These apple farmers are in a tight spot, as much of their time and resources are dedicated to the Honeycrisp, but the high demand means they can’t afford to lower production.
Orchards around the country are attempting to introduce or promote other apple varieties with a similar flavor profile and crispness that require less work and are less vulnerable to consumers. While the Honeycrisp is still far from disappearing, there are several other apple varieties out there that can be a more economical purchase while still providing you with the crunch and sweet-tart flavor you love.
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