Canada

Grocery store apples now have their own trademark management companies

The apple industry, like most industries, is changing and producers are trademarking newer varieties as brands, which means prospective growers have to be licensed to sell them and pay royalties on sales.

Dozens of “managed” apple varieties have launched in recent years in response to the success of open varieties

Chances are you've come across plenty of managed varieties in the supermarket, including SweeTango, Jazz, Ambrosia and Pacific Rose. (Katherine Holland/CBC)

For decades, Canadians have been buying apple varieties like McIntosh, Granny Smith, Golden Delicious and Honeycrisp.

No one owns the rights to these apples, which means anyone who wants to grow these varieties is free to do so.

But the apple industry, like most industries, is changing and producers are trademarking newer varieties as brands, which means prospective growers have to be licensed to sell them and pay royalties on sales.

They're called "club" or "managed" varieties and, according to David Parrish, club varieties are becoming the new normal.

Parrish is the CEO of the Scotian Gold Cooperative, a tree fruit cooperative in Nova Scotia. He represents growers who produce traditional varieties but have also recently been growing club apples.

"Usually there are breeding programs that are producing these varieties," said Parrish. "I think if anyone goes to their grocery store and looks, it's not just apples from Canada, but also from New Zealand and Chile and the U.S., most of those new varieties on the shelf are club varieties."

'We're all collectively trying to protect our variety,' says brand management company

Chances are you've come across plenty of managed varieties in the supermarket, including SweeTango, Jazz, Ambrosia and Pacific Rose.

Cosmic Crisp is a newer club variety, which is managed by Proprietary Variety Management. They sold a 10-year exclusive deal to Washington State, which may get extended.

Cosmic Crisp brand apples are a cross between Enterprise and Honeycrisp with a firm and crisp texture. (Proprietary Variety Management)

"It will help the availability and trademark protection," said Kathryn Grandy, director of marketing for Proprietary Variety Management. "We have a patent and trademark on the variety and we have a management system that allows growers to enter their license number and GPS tracks where they grow it. We're all collectively trying to protect our variety."

Even apple varieties that aren't trademarked have some degree of copy protection.

Seeds aren't enough to reliably reproduce apples. Apple seeds produce trees, but those trees don't necessarily produce the same variety as their parent. Cuttings need to be grafted to existing trees, typically by suppliers, to ensure the proper variety grows.

Trademarked apples aim to avoid overproduction

Dozens of different managed varieties have launched in recent years in response to the success of open varieties — apples that anyone can grow.

The Honeycrisp apple currently dominates the apple market and has since its development in the 1990s. And while it's still growing, eventually, the Honeycrisp will lose its sheen (just like another once popular variety, the Red Delicious).

That will leave growers with orchards full of less valuable fruit.

Apple seeds produce trees, but those trees don't produce the same variety as their parent. Cuttings need to be grafted to existing trees, typically by suppliers, to ensure the proper variety grows. (Jane Robertson/CBC)

Parrish says new club apples seek to avoid that issue.

"At some point in time, an apple will become overproduced. It's the nature of supply and demand," said Parrish. "With a club variety, the goal is to match supply with demand, so there is a structured price that comes back to the grower."

Of course, there are drawbacks to club varieties of apples. Prospective growers have to be licensed by the brand's owner and not all growers want to pay royalties.

That means, even though club varieties are on the rise, it's unlikely your favourite McIntosh or Granny Smith is going anywhere anytime soon.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Khalil Akhtar

Food Columnist

Khalil Akhtar is a syndicated food columnist for CBC Radio. He takes a weekly look at some of the surprising aspects of your daily diet. Khalil is based in Victoria, B.C.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now