Good Fruit Grower

August 2014

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T he incredibly sweet CandyCot apricots are a hit with consumers, but there's been a steep learn- ing curve on the production side, says CandyCot partner Chris Britton. CandyCots are a series of apricot varieties and selections with origins from Central Asia. The Can- dyCot name is trademarked and represents a partner- ship between two California family farms: Driver Family Farms in Waterford and Britton Konynenburg Partners in Salida, a partnership of Chris Britton and Paul Van Konynenburg. CandyCots are a managed or club variety on a small scale. To be a CandyCot apricot, the selection must meet certain standards, Britton said. Fruit must be high in sugar—at least 22° Brix (most average 26° Brix)—and possess unique eating qualities. "Eating quality is not based on size," he said. "What we're looking for is com- plexity of fl avors. We're not looking for a sugar bomb— one of our selections was 32° Brix, but it was like eating a sugar cube. We're after complexity of fl avors, a term winemakers often use." CandyCot apricot selections come in several fl esh col- ors—some are intensely orange, some are white, some yellow. Fruit are small or medium in size. "Most of the varieties are genetically quite small, so we are looking at crossing selections to achieve larger fruit," Britton said. "But we're really opposed to losing the eating qualities just to have larger fruit." Currently, two varieties are in commercial produc- tion, and four more are in commercial testing. In addi- tion to the Driver and Britton Konynenburg orchards and the one outside grower, testing agreements are in place at Oasis Farms in Prosser, Washington; Red Jacket Orchards in Geneva, New York; and Andy's Orchards in Morgan Hill, California. There are also testing agree- ments in Spain, France, and Italy. About 125 acres total have been planted thus far. The CandyCot package is as unique as the fruit. Fruit are packed in only one type of package—a one- pound, foam-lined clamshell that looks like a candy box. Inside the box, fruit are nestled in a Panta-Pak to prevent movement in the clamshell. Four fruit sizes are available: 9-, 11-, 12-, and 14-count. Suggested retail price is $5.99 per pound. Harvest usually starts around June 12 and lasts for about a month. This is the third year of commercial production. Picking, handling, and packing the fragile fruit is very labor intensive. Extra care must be used because fruit are picked at very high maturity. The tender apricots are touched by humans twice, once when picked and placed into a foam-cushioned, Panta-Pak-lined, small lug and then again on the small, outdoor packing line when sort- ers put fruit in the appropriate clamshell. The high sugar content often causes fruit to have small brown spots or scuffi ng on the surface. These are sugar spots, Britton explained, and added that they include information in the packages to educate consumers about the spots. Not enough Demand has been unbelievable and has way outpaced supply, Britton said to Good Fruit Grower during a visit in late spring, just ahead of CandyCot season. Foodies are the kind of people who love CandyCots. "We've had no problem selling fruit," he said. "We're selling it ourselves and have to say no to the vast majority of customers." Currently, they are working primarily with four customers, including HEB-Texas Central Markets, Raley's, a California market, and the online produce marketer Fresh Direct in New York. Saying no is not a terrible thing, he said, but it's been diffi cult to project volumes because they don't have years of experience behind them. CandyCot trees range in age from sixth to third leaf. In 2013, they packed about 10,000 cartons. This year, they had hoped for 18,000 cartons, but 22 AUGUST 2014 Good Fruit Grower Chris Britton holds a container of CandyCot apricots ready for shipping. CandyCot is the trademarked name for a series of super-sweet apricots developed by John Driver and Britton Konynenburg Farms. The fragile apricots are packed under a covered, open-air packing line and are handled only twice— once by the picker and once by the packer. Harvest APRICOTS as sweet as candy Demand is outpacing supply. by Melissa Hansen

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