The new 'Sunburst' variety is being commercialised in the UK by Scion Fruits, a joint venture between Frank P Matthews and Richard Hochfeld who specialises in developing commercial varieties.
Bred and grown at NIAB EMR in Kent, the apples are being sold in Waitrose, with around 1,500 12kg boxes expected to be sold in the next month. This marks a threefold increase in retail volumes of the variety, which first became available commercially last season. Many more 'Sunburst' trees have already been planted in Kent and Herefordshire, and by 2024 Scion expects to have 200,000 trees planted across Europe. With distinctive orange skin, firm texture and sweet taste with tropical flavours, 'Sunburst' is a delicious new introduction.
Scion Fruits director Martin O’Sullivan said: "Unlike other pink or red-fleshed varieties, 'Sunburst' was bred first and foremost for taste, not the colour of its flesh. This season, the appearance and taste of the fruit is even more consistent." As well as its distinctive appearance, the coloured flesh is unusually high in anthocyanins - compounds linked to many health benefits that have given fruits like blueberries and blackcurrants "superfood" status, he added.
The variety was first crossed conventionally at NIAB EMR in 2003 and selected in 2006, the research station's managing director Mario Caccamo explained. "Plant breeding is about choosing the right parents to cross. It can then take over 25 years until a new apple variety reaches the marketplace," he said. "Fortunately, we sped up the process once we saw 'Sunburst’s' unique colouring, and were delighted this variety, with a true ‘wow factor’, has hit the supermarket shelves only 14 years from the first cross."
The Scion Fruits initiative is believed to be the UK's only current commercial top fruit breeding programme, with 35 varieties at various stages of development including those that reportedly taste of candy floss, cherries and Fruit Salad sweets. The joint venture has so far bought the rights to varieties from three breeders, Nigel Deacon, the late Hugh Ermen and NIAB EMR. Martin O’Sullivan added: "Sunburst is hopefully the first of many new British apples we will introduce to the market in the near future."
For the garden centre market, FPM have released 'Surprize' which is a sister variety to 'Sunburst' with the same taste and appearance but a slightly different skin.