British-bred Sunburst apples are back on the shelves at Waitrose and volume is set to triple in the variety’s second commercial season.
The first commercial crop of the pink-fleshed Sunburst made a big impression last season, when just 500 12kg boxes were available. Bred and grown at NIAB EMR in Kent, around 1,500 boxes have been sold in September and October.
Conventionally crossed in 2003 and selected in 2006, Sunburst is a cross between Gala, Falstaff and the purple-fleshed Pink Pearl. It has an orange skin and its sweet taste has distinct tropical flavours. The variety fits the increasing demand from UK consumers for home-grown sweet apples, with a firm, crunchier texture. It is also very juicy with high sugars and an exceptional aroma. It has a medium-sized, conical shape and the pink flesh shines through the orange skin to give it a unique appearance.
The commercialisation of Sunburst is being managed in the UK by Scion Fruits Ltd, a joint venture between Richard Hochfeld Ltd, one of the largest suppliers of apples and pears to the retail sector, and Frank P Matthews Ltd, a UK nursery supplying both the garden and commercial sectors with new top-fruit varieties.
Scion Fruits’ Director Martin O’Sullivan is convinced that Sunburst’s unique package of taste, appearance and heritage will appeal to a wide range of consumers and that the variety also stands out from the crowd for other reasons. “Unlike other pink- or red-fleshed varieties, Sunburst was bred first and foremost for taste, not the colour of its flesh,” he said. “For an apple variety, the flesh is unusually high in anthocyanins, the compounds linked to many health benefits that have given fruits like blueberries and blackcurrants superfood status. We think its taste and texture compare favourably with any other apple and the consumer feedback from last year’s crop was excellent. This season, the appearance and taste of the fruit is even more consistent.”
NIAB EMR’s Managing Director Mario Caccamo added that Sunburst’s potential was immediately obvious. “Plant-breeding is about choosing the right parents to cross. It can then take over 25 years until a new apple variety reaches the marketplace. Fortunately, we sped up the process once we saw Sunburst’s unique colouring and were delighted that this variety, with a true ‘wow’ factor, has hit the supermarket shelves only 14 years from the first cross [being made],” he said.
Scion Fruits Ltd has made a significant investment in bringing volume to market and an intensive planting programme will see volumes surge in seasons to come. “We have already planted a lot more trees in Kent and Herefordshire and, by 2024, we expect to have 200,000 trees in the ground in Europe,” said O’Sullivan. “Ours is the only programme focused on British-bred top-fruit and we have 35 varieties at various stages of development,” said O’Sullivan. “Sunburst is hopefully the first of many new British apples that we will introduce to the market in the near future.”