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Commercialising a new apple variety

Commercialising a new apple variety can take 25–30 years from selecting the initial cultivar to market launch, and the process must be carefully managed.

Managing the commercialisation process

Commercialising all new apple and pear varieties developed through Plant & Food Research’s (PFR) breeding programme is the responsibility of joint venture company Prevar Limited.

Get organisation profile: Prevar

Launching a new apple variety in the market is the end point of a very long process – it can take up to 25–30 years from the crossing of 2 parent cultivars to breed and commercialise a new variety. For a new variety to be commercially successful, the entire process needs to be carefully managed. Prevar’s CEO, Brett Ennis, works closely with PFR throughout the breeding programme to ensure all new varieties have the high-quality attributes required to be successful in the market and that investors (growers who plant a new variety and marketers who sell the fruit) have confidence that the new variety will be commercially successful. Securing and careful management of intellectual property (IP) is also a critical part of the process.

Get person: Brett Ennis

Breeding a new apple variety takes time

At present, breeding a new cultivar takes about 15 years from the first crossing of 2 parent cultivars before it’s considered ready for possible commercialisation. Breeding involves developing and continuously assessing approximately 45 traits in the apple and the tree. Reaching a high standard in each trait ensures consumers will like the apple and buy it.

Get information sheet: Breeding a new apple cultivar

Commercialisation involves a number of stages

Once a new cultivar is bred and considered commercially viable, it enters the commercialisation phase. This can take up to 10 years and involves a number of stages, including:

  • distributing plants to nurseries around the world (this involves varying periods of quarantine)
  • propagating the variety in individual nurseries after quarantine release.
  • growing increasing numbers of trees for testing the new variety’s performance and assessing any fruit variability under differing growing conditions.
  • marketing the opportunity to plant the new variety to growers and fruit marketing companies and contracting the use of the IP via a licensing agreement.
  • on-going commercial planting and variety promotion.

Managing risk through a continuous pipeline

PFR and Prevar have a continuous pipeline of new varieties at different stages. This minimises the time delay between new varieties being introduced to the market. It also helps manage risk because, inevitably, at different stages in the pipeline, some products will fail. For example, a new variety may fail if it’s too similar to an existing variety or if the fruit is too variable when grown in different areas.

Protecting intellectual property: a critical part of commercialisation

Protecting the intellectual property (IP) is a critical part of commercialising a new apple or pear variety and is done by securing a plant variety right (PVR). A PVR gives Prevar exclusive rights to the plants and any propagating material. Prevar gives growers the right to use a PVR through licensing – this provides growers with access to innovative new varieties that, if marketed well, can help them earn a sustainable profit and remain competitive in the market.

A PVR (for woody plants) has a life of 23 years in New Zealand so Prevar, through its service partner AIGN, makes the PVR application immediately prior to any commercial-scale tree plantings or sale of fruit. This maximises the duration of the PVR protection.

Trade marks are another form of IP protection important for differentiating new varieties and pitching a new variety in the market. Trade marks are renewable and therefore protect IP beyond the life of the PVR. Prevar grants marketers the right to use the variety-associated trade mark via a licensing agreement.

Predicting the apples we’d like to eat

Predicting which apple and pear varieties consumers will want in the future is part of Prevar’s role. It takes many years to breed and commercialise a new variety, so foresight can reduce the risk of failing to meet consumers’ demands.

To help predict future demand, Prevar maintains close links with the market in different countries and understands how tastes vary. They listen carefully to consumers and marketers and regularly test their ideas with them. Prevar also uses global market research to gain insight into future trends and confirm that their current breeding themes, including the red-fleshed apple, are worthy of continuing investment.

Get information sheet: Consumer and sensory science in plant breeding

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