Grocery store apples now have their own trademark management companies
Dozens of “managed” apple varieties have launched in recent years in response to the success of open varieties
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.
"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.
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.