Take a walk down the produce aisle at your local supermarket, and you’ll likely see an abundance of apples. The U.S. is the third biggest apple producer in the world with an output of around 4.8 million metric tons during the 2019/2020 crop year. China and the European Union are first and second, respectively. In fact, the apple is one of the most produced fruits here, ranking second behind grapes but ahead of oranges.
The household apples we know and love include Fuji, Gala, Honeycrisp, Granny Smith and Golden Delicious, but there are actually more than 100 different varieties grown in the U.S. Among them is one that’s on its way to becoming another big name: the Lucy.
What is the Lucy apple? It’s a new variety of apple that’s a cross between Honeycrisp and Airlie Red (a red-fleshed apple also known as Hidden Rose), and embodies the best of both predecessors.
A Lucy apple tastes sweet and tart with a crunchy texture, much like a Honeycrisp, but it gets its striking flesh color from Airlie Red. When you cut open a Lucy apple, the inside is mostly pinkish-red with a little bit of white.
The new variety comes in two types: Lucy Rose and Lucy Glo. The former is red on the outside and contains berry notes while the latter has a yellow skin and notable tanginess, according to Chelan Fresh, the Chelan, Washington-based creator and grower of the Lucy.
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Red-fleshed apples are not a new or even recent phenomenon. They’ve existed since the late 1940s but never gained much traction with consumers, says Patrick Ahern, director of procurement, administration and pricing at Baldor Specialty Foods. Ahern is a produce expert who has been with the import and distribution company for 20 years.
What makes the Lucy apple different from other red-fleshed apples seen in the past is that it’s been bred for looks and flavor.
Over the years, Ahern has seen a shift in consumers’ taste preferences. “People are turning away from the Red Delicious and other kind of bland apples,” he says. More popular apple varieties are Gala, Fuji and Honeycrisp, which Ahern considers a “true success story.”
He says that while the Honeycrisp is not a particularly attractive-looking apple, this variety was bred for flavor and is made up of individual cells that are bigger than a regular apple cell. Larger cells make for a juicer and crunchier experience when you bite down on a Honeycrisp.
But now that the market is saturated with Honeycrisp and other flavorful apples, consumers are looking for something else to try. Ahern has seen the demand for red-fleshed apples pick up in recent years.
Baldor was one of the first distributors of Airlie Red, a parent to Lucy. Ahern says a 10-pound case of that variety sold for the price of a 40-pound case. “We obviously knew there was a market for a beautiful red apple on the inside,” he says.
To capitalize on the popularity of Honeycrisp and the growing interest in red-fleshed apples, Chelan Fresh created the Lucy. And it’s been winning people over.
Ahern did a demonstration of the new variety five years ago and the people watching were in awe. “I was showing the audience the apple and then I cut it in half and they couldn’t believe it’s red,” he says. “They all gasped.”
Chelan Fresh made Lucy commercially available for the first time last year with 6,000 cases. These sold out straight away, Ahern says. This year’s harvest was around 15,000 cases and is close to selling out.
The production level for Lucy apples is still in early stages, which is why you might have not seen it in stores near you yet. “There’s not enough volume right now to flood supermarkets,” Ahern says. But by early fall, the peak season for this variety, he expects the harvest to double and then continue to increase each year as other farmers start growing Lucy apples.
This means you may eventually start finding Lucy apples at major supermarkets. Ahern thinks it will take around five years for this to happen. Until then, you’re more likely to find it at higher-end gourmet stores and online through Baldor or other websites, he says.