B.C. creator of non-browning Arctic apple plans 'aggressive expansion' after positive U.S. test run

The company behind the non-browning Arctic apple created in Summerland, B.C., is making aggressive expansion plans following a successful U.S. test run. But the apples won't be sold in Canada for at least two more years.

Summerland, B.C., company has three genetically modified apples approved by federal agencies

The apples were recently tested at select markets in the U.S., but are still not available for sale in Canada. (The Canadian Press)

Following an "amazing" test run in select U.S. markets, the B.C. creator of the genetically modified, non-browning Arctic apple says an aggressive company expansion is on the horizon, though it will take time for the product to come to Canada.

The Arctic apple, developed by Okanagan Specialty Fruits (OSF), was sold in a number of stores in the U.S. Midwest last year as part of a marketing test with customers.

The apples were sliced and sold in 10-ounce grab-and-go bags that were a hit with consumers, according to creator Neal Carter.

"We saw robust, positive results. The data was amazing," he said.

"When people had a chance to see the apple and experience it and realize how fantastic it is, I think that that's a real game changer," he told CBC Daybreak South host Chris Walker.

"That's what's allowed us to move forward very aggressively with a lot of confidence."

Very little GMO criticism, says creator

Growers and GMO opponents have previously raised concerns about genetically engineered crops like the apple and the complicated technology behind it, but Health Canada has approved it for sale here, as has the Department of Agriculture in the U.S.

Carter said consumer surveys done in six store locations resulted in 92 per cent of customers saying they would be very likely or extremely likely to buy the non-browning apples in the future.

He also said they saw virtually no criticism of the genetic modification of the food, which he says is promising as the business looks to expand.

Apple grower and bioresource engineer Neal Carter.

"We understand that there's a segment out there that chooses not to buy biotech and that's fine, that's their choice," said Carter.

"But it looks to us that there's an awful lot of people that think this product is exciting and they're really keen to try it and really keen to buy it."

1,200 hectares by 2022

Carter has been working to develop the Arctic apple since 1996. In 2015, his company was purchased by Intrexon Corporation — a U.S. biotech company — which is now funding the planting of new trees.

"Our business model has us planting trees very aggressively," Carter said. 

By 2022, he expects the company will have more than 1,200 hectares planted in Washington state and will be growing more non-browning apples than all of the apples grown in the Okanagan Valley.

"I don't think we envisioned quite this aggressive of a plan," he said.

While he calls the U.S. test run a success, he estimates it will still be at least two more years before the apples are available for sale in Canada.

The Arctic apple on the right, does not brown like the conventional apple on the left, because the genes which produce polyphenol oxidase have been silenced, meaning the chemical reaction that leads to browning does not take place. (Okanagan Specialty Fruits)

With files from CBC's Daybreak South and Chris Walker, and Brady Strachan.

About the Author

Jaimie Kehler

Jaimie Kehler is a web writer, producer and broadcaster based in Kelowna, B.C. She has also worked for CBC News in Toronto and Ottawa. To contact her with a story, email jaimie.kehler@cbc.ca.