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Waiting on the Cosmic Crisp Apple Drop

This is what happens when an apple has a multimillion-dollar marketing budget

A red apple still on the tree
Jaya Saxena is a Correspondent at, and the series editor of Best American Food Writing. She explores wide ranging topics like labor, identity, and food culture.

Produce does not have a reputation for brilliant or particularly out there advertising. Mexican avocados simply sell themselves by stating they’re “always in season” (true if you specifically count one state in the country, Michoacán), the California Artichoke Board asks you to “stop and eat the artichokes,” and the best the egg has come up with is “incredible” (and even then, followed by merely “edible”). Mostly, that’s because certain staples don’t have to worry about recognition because almost everyone knows what eggs and artichokes and avocados are. If they’re not buying them, it’s for a different reason than lack of awareness.

But occasionally, a new basic comes on the market, and consumers need to be reminded of all the potential that lies within something as de rigueur as a piece of fruit. This is the concept behind the ad campaign around the Cosmic Crisp, also known as WA 38, a new apple bred by Washington State University researchers over the past 20 years which is dropping in grocery stores this winter. I’m obsessed. Behold the slightly deranged but still effective ad, which suggests the apple can inspire children to follow their dreams, that its flavor could launch us into space travel (again). THIS IS THE APPLE THE WORLD HAS BEEN WAITING FOR, it declares, in case you hadn’t realized you’d been waiting for an apple that has STRIKING COLOR and is NATURALLY SLOW TO BROWN. (Tag yourself, I’m EXCELLENT STORAGE).

Cosmic Crisp has been hinting at its drop all summer, but according to the New York Post, the apple will be available beginning December 1. “Growers have already planted 12 million Cosmic Crisp trees and 450,000 40-pound boxes will be available for sale this year. By 2020, more than 2 million boxes will be available.” The apple is a cross between the Enterprise and the Honeycrisp, the former known for its durability, the latter for its flavor. It is a “rich red that almost sparkles with starburst-like lenticels,” evoking the star-patterned apples of Wes Anderson’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox — fitting as the idea of such fervor around a new apple feels like something out of a twee fiction.

The Cosmic Crisp is also backed by a massive consumer launch. In a report on the apple in California Sunday Magazine, writer Brooke Jarvis described the rise and fall of the Red Delicious, staple of cafeterias everywhere and Washington state’s one time moneymaker, and how apples in general are falling out of favor thanks, in part, to heavy marketing from clementines. “[Red Delicious’s] 50-year reign as America’s most-grown apple had officially come to an end... But though the industry was adapting, with fields of newer, market-tested apples going in every year, much of the old confidence was gone,” she wrote. Growers are hoping the Cosmic Crisp could bring them back to the glory days, especially with this publicity campaign. “That the era of just making things and letting them go was over,” said Bruce Barritt, the developer of the Cosmic Crisp. “That’s not the way the world is anymore.” This apple has a $10.5 million marketing budget.

If you live in a region where fall heralds an abundance of apple varieties, you may also be familiar with the annual agony of trying to remember which apples are which. We all know Red Delicious suck, but you might have mistaken a mealy Roma for a crisp Cortland, or forgotten the difference between a Winesap and Macoun. It can get overwhelming, which means it’s easy to not have hard opinions about apples. Remember one or two you like, forget the rest. What the Cosmic Crisp is up against is both oversaturation and established tastes. Can it really be that much better than your favorite Jonagold? And if it is, is it $2.99 per pound better?

It’s also a reminder that few things that end up in the grocery store get there without marketing. Like everything else, apples are ruled by patents and ownership and the changing climate and changing tastes, whatever is going to make the growers and developers enough money to keep growing. It feels weird to watch an ad asking you to IMAGINE THE POSSIBILITIES of an apple, because apples feel like part of the fabric of American life. It’s like watching an ad for the concept of clothing, or a sales rep asking if you’ve considered having hair. It’s an apple, you eat it, this shouldn’t be this complicated. But of course there’s nothing fundamentally different about an ad for an apple and an ad for a granola bar. No matter how close to the earth it is, it’s still a product.

Update: October 22, 2019, 6:09 p.m.: The article originally stated that the Cosmic Crisp was developed at the University of Washington. It was actually developed at Washington State University.

Update: October 23, 2019, 5:38 p.m.: A previous version of this story stated that Mexican avocados are not “always in season.”