Fall

Why Oh Why Are Honeycrisps So Much More Expensive Than Other Apples?

September 20, 2016

​The question that always tugs at the wallet when autumn hits: Do you go for the cheaper apples, the Granny Smiths and McIntoshes that might mush, rather than crunch, when you bite into them? Or do you pay a premium—sometimes more than four times as much—for the bright-pink Honeycrisps? (Maybe it depends whether they're intended for pie.)

Twenty-five years ago, you wouldn't have even had a choice. It wasn't until 1991—thirty-one years after the original cross in 1960—that the Honeycrisp was released commercially and became, in the words of John Seabrook in the New Yorker, "the humble Minnesota apple that made it onto the national, and then the international, stage."

Honeycrisps​ are, in my mind, a justifiable apple phenomenon: They're snappy; they're sweet; they're sturdy enough to swipe up peanut butter; they're juicy to the point where you can practically feel the moisture droplets squirting from the cells (which, when viewed under an electron microscope, are actually two times the size of those of other apples, explaining their distinct texture)—and they're expensive.

But why?

These are not Honeycrisps—but we wish they were! Photo by James Ransom

It's a simple matter of supply and demand, says David Bedford, the scientist who invented the Honeycrisp at the University of Minnesota, where growers cross-pollinated different tree varietals to create new genetic combinations that would be winter-hardy producers of high-quality fruit.

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Top Comment:
“Honeycrisps are among the top two apples I've ever tasted. The other is winesap, but I haven't seen one in this area in years. Same succulence as the honeycrisp and wonderful taste. Wish they were grown in the west.”
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An Esquire article explains that after almost two decades of slow growth, interest in Honeycrisps has taken off, but production can't keep up, as it takes five to six years from the time a tree is planted for it to produce enough fruit for commercial purposes.

And those trees—and the fruit that comes from them—are high-maintenance, or as a New York Times article called "Beyond the Honeycrisp Apple" put it: "maddeningly difficult to grow."

Not only must the soil conditions be just right (according to Beford, high-quality apples come from trees grown in specific regions like Minnesota, Michigan, and upstate New York) and the relatively weak trees trellised, but the fruit itself is thin-skinned, ​and its stem must be hand-cut from the tree. It ripens at various rates, which necessitates multiple pickings per season, and the blossom clusters must be thinned in the spring, as larger apples come from clusters with fewer blossoms.

Up until 2008, the University of Minnesota held a patent on the tree—it had farmers paying about $1.30 on each tree sold, earning the university, when combined with international sales rights, more than ten million dollars in royalties, reported John Seabrook. That made the Honeycrisp "the third-most-valuable invention ever produced there after Ziagen, a drug used to treat H.I.V., and a vaccine that prevents P.R.R.S., a reproductive and respiratory virus in pigs."​

But the patent's expiration was not expected to change the number of trees in the ground, according to Fruit Growers News: Demand is so high that growers hadn't been taking the extra costs of the patented variety into account anyway.

So it's a perfect storm for high prices: There aren't very many trees around, those that do exist are expensive to care for, and lots of people want to buy the apples because they taste good.

In 2013, Bedford told Esquire that he does expect the price of Honeycrisps to come down as it's planted in more areas of the U.S. as well as New Zealand and Chile. But as price drops, so might quality: Because farmers will be incentivized to grow the apple in less-than-ideal conditions because it fetches such a high price, this might lead to fruit "no longer universally on par with today's standards."

Not to worry—when Honeycrisps lose their special something, there are other apple varietals to rebound with: the Ambrosia, the Jazz, the SnapDragon, and the SweeTango, the Opal, the Pacific Rose, and the yet-to-be-released Cosmic Crisp, for example, are all vying to be the next money-making it-apple.

I'm still feeling a little sorry for the Red Delicious.

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33 Comments

Todd H. August 17, 2017
We tried the honeycrisps a few years ago here in Alabama and they were delicious but so expensive. Last year they reached almost $4.00 a lbs. And some are so big that it's crazy that one Apple can almost set you back $4. Todd in Alabaster Al.
 
Betsey September 28, 2016
You're welcome, <br /><br />Love, Minnesota.
 
LauriL September 24, 2016
I discovered Crestons today!!! 1.49 /lb....!!!!!!!!!!<br />
 
Maryellen September 24, 2016
While I like the new apple varieties that I have tried, my favorite is still the humble Red Delicious apple!
 
Aliciaaa August 22, 2017
We cannot be eating the same Red Delicious Apples...any I've ever tried are mushy, mealy, and flavorless
 
[email protected] September 23, 2016
My favorite local store had organic Honeycrisps for $1.98/lb this week! YUM!
 
pamb September 23, 2016
Last week I got Honeycrisps for $1.88 a pound, and this week they were 99 cents at Fresh Thyme (similar to Sprouts, and now opening all over MN).
 
Lin September 22, 2016
There is an orchard in the Blue Ridge Mtns. here in Va. that grows the Arkansas Black. They are so good and keep for months in the fridge (in the garage) retaining most of their great texture. Love them.
 
Jo A. September 22, 2016
I wish the writer would have addressed the subject of pesticides. I don't have a problem with paying a little extra for a hard to grow awesome apple, but not if it's sprayed with a ton of poison. Are Honeycrisps grown organically anywhere?
 
Erin H. September 22, 2016
Sure, Jo Ann. I got organic Honeycrisps this morning at Sprouts (formerly Sunflower Market) and have bought them in the past at Whole Foods and Natural Grocer. Your usual store for produce can certainly get them, if they aren't already in stock.
 
nancy M. September 22, 2016
what ever happened to the good old fashioned Jonathan apple? sweet-tart, crisp. delightful. cant find them much anymore.
 
Carol W. September 22, 2016
I'm with Jonathan Heuer. I think Honeycrips are nice but Pink Lady is the perfect apple for me. Crisp, light, tart but sweet and skin is perfectly portioned for the snap of the apple. I find some apples too mealy (macintosh), tart (granny smith) or underwhelming (golden delicious). Gala's are a bit mealy sometimes as well, So, from a NYer now living in the SF Bay Area, give me my Pink Lady's and in the world of Dr, Evil, Get In My Belly!
 
Jonathan H. September 22, 2016
Carol, in SF there's a guy that sells Pink Ladies most of the year at the Alemany Farmer's Market. At least, he did last time I lived there. SOOOO GOOD!
 
Linda E. September 22, 2016
In the UK we still have lots of heritage varieties coming into small shops just about now. In the last week I have had Lady Sudeley, Scrumptious (variety name, and description), Katy, Discovery (fairly new), and a cooking apple called Emneth Early, which froths up when cooked in an amazing way. And we are losing these distinctive apples to more standard commercial varieties, which I find sad.<br />
 
Jonathan H. September 22, 2016
Pink Lady. Period.
 
Marcie September 22, 2016
My new favorite the last couple of years is the Envy apple. Not common, but try it if you find it any place! Wonderfu8l fragrance and flavor. And yes, honey crisps are also great.
 
Lindini September 23, 2016
Envy!!!!! Yes, my all time fave. Beware however....they do not keep indefinitely. Last year I purchased a big bagful to hoard all winter long keeping them in my spare frig. Auch, after about 3 weeks they were getting mushy and then days later they were inedible. So enjoy as you will but know they won't stick around all season
 
Erin H. September 22, 2016
Honeycrisps were actually the best value when I shopped today: gorgeous, big organics for just $1.98 a pound. Grannies, Braeburns and Galas were all $2.49. Sometimes you get lucky.
 
Lorraine F. September 21, 2016
A few years ago I tasted HoneyCrisp apples. WOW. The price can be up to $4 a pound here in the South. But for a pie it is worth the price. Can't compare a HoneyCrisp with any other apple.
 
judy September 21, 2016
does anyone remember a Snow apple? Deep red skin, very white flesh with flecks of red. Wonderful snap and juicy sweet. I was at the FArmer's market the other day and picked up a few varieties that I had not had in awhile, and one I had never heard of. All pretty insipid. I thin they didn;t wait until the first cold snap to pick. So the flavor hadn't set. My favorite summer apple is Gravenstein -it makes great chutney. Wintertime is Jonagold. Figi not far behind. We also get Braeburn which is OK. Never was a fan of Red delicious. and when I make pie? I use several varieties combined, with a granny Smith thrown in. I like the varieties, but the old heirloom ones are the best. Anyone remember an Arkansas Black?
 
Kaitlin B. September 21, 2016
Yes! I had Arkansas Blacks when I lived in New Orleans. They were the best "local-ish" apples around!
 
Noreen F. September 21, 2016
My grandma had a snow apple tree right outside her kitchen. Loved those little things!
 
LauriL September 21, 2016
Couoldnt get to the orchard yesterday so I bought ONE Honeycrisp from the grocery store...paid 2.75 cents for ONE apple....did I say it was worth it?!!!! YES<br />
 
LauriL September 21, 2016
Great article BTW....I will pass this info on to my coworkers next time we have converstion on apples!
 
BerryBaby September 20, 2016
What is considered expensive? I pay $1.75/lb for Honeycrisp at the local Farmers Market. There is an orchard nearby with 30 varieties of apples that are $1.00/lb. We are on the PNW. Pears are gorgeous right now bought Red Bartletts that are huge for 90 cents a pound. Are these good prices? I have no idea what produce costs in other parts of the country.
 
Leona S. September 20, 2016
I never liked apple juice never ever liked apple juice I mean hated it! That is until I put some Honeycrisps in my juicer! Wow! The most beautiful taste in the world!
 
[email protected] September 20, 2016
Honeycrisps are among the top two apples I've ever tasted. The other is winesap, but I haven't seen one in this area in years. Same succulence as the honeycrisp and wonderful taste. Wish they were grown in the west.
 
Bashe September 22, 2016
Winesap! Haven't had one in years. Maybe they'll grow them somewhere on the west coast, like they're now growing older east coast varieties like my favorite, the Cortland.
 
Diane W. September 22, 2016
Yes!! Winesap!!!
 
caninechef August 17, 2017
Cortland's rule!