CNF Apple Story

Sep 26, 2022

Apples in boxesApples are a tremendous fruit. As merchandisers and in general we have a love / loath relationship with some fruit varieties. Some are so volatile that they spoil quickly and some like apples are much more forgiving. Saying that as a particular variety nears the end of their season, they can turn on you much more quickly and require more attention. Though for the most part apples are a pleasure to work with.

The number of apples we carry each year can vary. Some varieties can be quite trendy then lose their appeal. In general, we might peak out at a couple a dozen varieties but some of them are very seasonal and could be on the floor for little more than a week, especially for some early season/late summer varieties.  

We are very fortunate to be close to our apple suppliers in BC. One thing that sets us apart than a conventional grocer; in a given year I would estimate we buy about 75% (or more) of or supply from these BC family farms. Annual sales are in the 100’s of thousands of dollars and that is a lot of money to keep in our local economy. Some producers make their entire living on these orchards. This local supply also means they are generally fresher as we tend to buy just as we need them without the need for long term storage on our part. We leave that to the experts that have the proper facilities to extend the life of an apple.  

Speaking of that, there is a lot of science and business decisions around the life of an apple. Farmers carefully consider what they should plant (graft) for a given year, with what people are buying at the stores. It’s not uncommon for orchards to pull and change the varieties they grow over time.  

We have the old standards, like Red Delicious, Spartan’s and Gold delicious but they don’t sell like they use to. People want new flavour experiences, and they are getting that with newer varieties like Honey Crisp and Ambrosia apples for example. Galas are still strong but some of these sales have moved to some of these new varieties.  

We follow these trends to a certain degree, but we always promise to have a wide selection. Many Orchards have gone to high-density farming these days and some of the giant old trees have disappeared. High density farming means smaller apple trees grown closer together, which are easier to pick and easier to re-graft should a farm want to change varieties. Unfortunately, this has become a financial necessity for many farms but it is certainly understandable from that aspect.  

Saying that, we try to buy from some of farms that still have these old trees, like our yearly feature on Red Delicious Apples from Zebroff farm. George calls these the ‘Christmas Apple’, because we do a sale feature every Christmas and have done so for decades! 

One of our Farms, Harker’s Fruit Ranch in Cawston BC has a heritage tree that is over 100 years old. It’s obviously an old variety that they still harvest for fruit wine and their cidery.  

So, not only does an orchardist need to consider what varieties they will invest in, there is a lot to consider when growing a good apple that is going to size nicely and keep on the shelf. Tree’s need a lot of tending in a season like pruning and thinning.  

Apples are closely watched for their peak harvest by orchardist that use methods like pressure testing as well as Brix index. Orchardists have a neat little device that plunges a little probe into an apple that measures the pressure within the apple. This is a primary tool to indicate when an apple is ready to pick. Though not as common, orchardists can also use a device that measure the Brix rating (refractometer) to test the sweetness of an apple. This can also be an indication when an apple is ready to come off the tree or whether this season’s crop might be better suited for juice or other processing.  

I mentioned apple storage and once again, these farms tend to have the best facilities available to store and extend the life of an apple. One of the methods for extending the life of apples for several months is to store them in a Controlled Atmosphere, (or CA). There is very large, dedicated CA facility in Cawston BC that is owned by one of our primary suppliers and most of our late season apples would have been stored in this facility.  

Controlled Atmosphere is a safe storage method in which the concentrations of oxygen, carbon dioxide and nitrogen, as well as the temperature and humidity of a storage room are regulated. This can extend the life of certain varieties for several months.  Apples are carefully watched and staged so these rooms can be opened in succession over a few months.  

 Overall, Apples are an amazing versatile fruit that have a tremendous shelf live in the store and at home. We have the pleasure to work and buy directly from family farms, that we’ve been buying from for decades. I think we have one of the best selections anywhere and we are sure to also have some of your old favourites! 

Article by: Frank Sarro, Produce Category Manager

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