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Meet Cosmic Crisp - the apple with the most expensive marketing campaign in history

Harriet Alexander
The Cosmic Crisp apple will be officially available on December 1

Launched in time for Christmas, the marketing blitz could not be more carefully choreographed. There’s a $10.5 million (£8.1m) advertising campaign. There’s an astronaut endorsing the product. There’s even an entire state backing the apple launch.

But this isn’t about iPhones.

Instead, it’s an actual apple, grown in an orchard. Growers insist, however, that the Cosmic Crisp is no ordinary apple, and is worthy of the hype.

"It's a really good apple," said Kate Evans, the British director of the Washington State University’s Tree Fruit Research and Extension Center – one of only three publicly-funded apple breeding programmes in the US.

The other two centres, she told The Telegraph, are at the University of Minnesota and Cornell University, in upstate New York.

“It’s an ultra-crisp apple, it’s relatively firm, it has a good balance of sweet and tart and it’s very juicy."

The Cosmic Crisp apple tree

For 20 years the team on the west coast have been working on this apple, which has been created via cross-pollination rather than genetic modification. The apple was created by combining a Honeycrisp with an Enterprise.

Given how long it takes test trees to mature and produce fruit, 22 years from cross to launch is fairly quick when it comes to bringing a new product to market.

Cosmic Crisp, known originally as WA 38, is only the second commercially-released apple from the scheme. The other, WA 2, failed to take off – many blame the lack of marketing.

Ms Evans said getting this far was "pretty challenging", with thousands of apple seedlings planted every year - the majority of which prove not to be commercially viable.

“Cosmic Crisp is slow to brown when cut and stays fresh for a year in storage,” said Ms Evans.

“So we should see less food wastage because fewer apples will be discarded because they haven’t kept to the level of quality consumers want.”

She said the scale of the marketing campaign was "unprecedented", adding that when Washington state - producer of 60 per cent of all US apples - gets involved, the project ramps up immediately.

"When the state decides to move, they really go for it," she said.

Cosmic Crisp is the subject of a $10.5 million advertising campaign

Pink Lady, the first apple with a trademark, debuted in the 1990s, and others have followed since that time – but none on this scale.  

Kathryn Grandy, director of marketing and operations at Proprietary Variety Management, the marketing agency handling the launch, told HuffPost that the scale of the apple’s launch is unprecedented.

“There are 12 million trees planted in the state of Washington, so this year we’ll have 450,000 boxes of Cosmic Crisp apples,” she said. “Normally, when a new apple is introduced to the market, there might be 2,000 boxes, and it might take 10 years to hit a million boxes.”

She said the goal is for Cosmic Crisp to become “the most popular apple in America.”

The advertising executives are certainly trying their hardest to take a bite out of the market.

Actually shooting an apple into space has already been done as a marketing stunt for an apple called Autumn Glory. But Cosmic Crisp’s efforts are not far behind.

Cosmic Crisp’s trademarked tagline is “The apple of big dreams,” and the first ad campaign is called “Imagine the Possibilities.”

A former NASA astronaut, Leroy Chiao, a former International Space Station commander, is among the brand “ambassadors.” He’s joined by a blogger, Chantea McIntyre; an earth and space science teacher from Georgia, Nicole Marte; and Lauren Ko, described as a writer, baker and “pie artist”.

A campaign video declares it “the apple the world has been waiting for” and shows a Cosmic Crisp spinning like a globe, light bouncing off its deep-red peel. The peel, flecked with white dots like stars in a night sky, is, the marketing team say, what inspired the “cosmic” name.

 Tim Calkins, clinical professor of marketing at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management, told the website the name was a gamble.

“Initially, they’re going to have to overcome some skepticism,” he said.

“If they can create positive associations around this brand, it could be extremely successful. But if there are negative perceptions, or even just questions not easily answered, it will be a huge challenge.”