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June 17, 2010

Lawsuit bites Pepin Heights, U of M over SweeTango

Remember when I introduced the world to SweeTango, a possible Honeycrisp-killer, Minnesota-made apple variety?

6a00d83451cc8269e20120a5180f3e970b-250wi Now that apple is in the sauce.

Dennis Courtier, owner of the Lake City-based Pepin Heights Orchard, helped spot the apple as an up-and-comer.

Here's some from my article back in August 2009:

To help control the control the quality of his choice variety, SweeTango, Courtier has licensed the fruit, not the tree - just as a drugmaker would license patented research from Mayo Clinic.

And he has formed a cooperative of apple growers across the United States and into Canada called The Next Big Thing.

This group will help control where SweeTango is planted to maintain its quality and possibly help market it.

The method will also return a percentage of the profit from the sale of the fruit to the university, which also developed SweeTango.

In the open market-style of apple variety release, like the one used for Honeycrisp, the university also gets money from the sale of trees and only for a limited amount of years.

While he sees the managed variety method as a good addition to the apple industry's toolbox instead of a replacement to the open release method, U of M apple breeder David Bedford sees the financial advantage for the university.

"Honeycrisp, which is now the most popular apple there is, is now really established. And our patent on it expired last year," he said.

In the United States, at least, the university will not pick any more profits from Honeycrisp. 

Today the Star-Tribune posted an article by Mary Lynn Smith  about a lawsuit filed against the U and Pepin Heights by other apple growers:

6a00d83451cc8269e20120a51808a4970b-250wi More than a dozen apple growers filed a lawsuit in Hennepin District Court on Wednesday over an exclusive licensing agreement that the University of Minnesota and Pepin Heights Orchard have struck over what's being touted as the latest and greatest apple to hit the market — the SweeTango.

The growers expect that the new apple variety created by U researchers will take a big bite out of the apples already on the market.

The growers who filed the suit argue the university's licensing agreement with Pepin Heights severely limits their ability to grow, sell and ultimately profit from the SweeTango, a cross between the Honeycrisp and Zestar varieties.

The growers complain that the deal limits the number of trees other orchards can grow and allows them to sell only directly to consumers or individual stores rather than through the wholesalers who are an essential source of revenue for most orchards. The deal also prevents smaller growers from pooling their crops to fill orders from large retail stores.

"Such restrictive limitations ... result in unfair competition likely to force some of [the growers] out of business and significantly impair efforts of other Minnesota apple growers to remain viable," the suits says.


That's the way exclusive licensing works. It's been found legal in other businesses.

P.S. I've tried SweeTango and while they are quite good HoneyCrisp are still better.

It all depends on where the honeycrisp came from Bill... if it's local, yeah it probably is just as good as sweet tango. But if it came from a warmer climate like Washington or Oregon, then it doesn't taste the same. The climate has a LOT to do with the flavour of apples... that very problem is the whole reason they were looking for a new variety anyway, the growers that don't have the right climate for honeycrisps have ruined the flavor and reputation of the apple. I seem to recall that was one of the reasons they wanted to tightly control who can commercially grow sweettango, so that they can keep the folks that don't have the appropriate winters to develop the trees to develop the fruit from selling them and repeating the mess.

I bought an overpriced bag of HoneyCrisp from a place the pumpkin place up in Douglas - all had no flavor.

I agree, honeycrisp, don't taste as good, if they aren't from minnesota

"The climate has a LOT to do with the flavour of apples"

Yeah, I know. I used to like Granny Smiths but when they started growing them outside New Zealand the quality was gone.

BTW, same for Kiwi Fruit. When they first came out they were great; juicy, sweet, Mmmmmm. Now they all seem to be bitter.

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