The Miracle Apple. By Planet Money. Prologue: The Tyrant. Once upon a time, the apple section in grocery
stores was ruled by a tyrant. Tough-skinned, mealy and character-building, it was the Red Delicious. And it was red, but really not so delicious. This is the story of how one man and his miracle
apple changed the world of fruit forever. In the old days, like the 1960s, apples were
a commodity like screws or cheap socks. Most big stores just wanted a couple of apples, and especially the Red Delicious because it was big, it was red and it had a tough skin
that made it easy to transport. People figured an apple is an apple, and there was no reason
to pay more for one than another. As a result, there was no way for the apple
growers to make a better apple and charge more for it. It was a bad business to be in. Chapter 1: The Boy Who Hated Apples In those days, there was a young boy in North
Carolina named David Bedford. He didn’t know it at the time, but he was destined to
change the world of apples forever. Young Bedford loved fruit, but he hated apples
because, remember — the tyranny of the Red Delicious. But when he grew up and went off to college, he met this person who was carrying around a bushel of yellow apples from an exotic and
mysterious land called Michigan. And this person said, “Try these, man. They’ll
change your whole world.” Bedford took a bite. And he saw the truth. He knew the world of apples had to change.
And he would be the one to change it. Chapter 2: The Man And The Miracle Apple It’s the 1980s, and Bedford’s quest to
topple the Red Delicious has led him to become an apple breeder at the University of Minnesota. His is a hard, solitary toil. In the peak of the season he’s taking bites
from 5 to 600 apples a day looking for that one perfect apple. And finally, one day, in the early 1980s,
he comes across this tree — Tree No. 1711. He picks an apple from it. Takes a bite. And… It tasted crisp and honeyed. So, he called
it “Honeycrisp.” But it didn’t catch on at first — because
it was harder to grow and because grocery stores were still pretty unimaginative places. They looked at Bedford’s apple and said, “Eh, no thanks, the produce aisle is fine.” And so the apple growers said, “Yeah, we’re fine too.” Chapter 3: An Unlikely Alliance There was one apple grower named Dennis Courtier,
though. Around this time, he visits Bedford and says, “I’m not getting anywhere growing
the same apples as everybody else. Got anything different?” Bedford does. Courtier tries an apple from Tree 1711 and
says, “Sweet Iðunn! This is the apple I’ve been waiting for.” He goes all in on planting Honeycrisp. When these apples finally get to the big supermarkets, they do great. The Honeycrisp proves consumers are willing to pay more for a better apple. It finally breaks the apple free
from the commodity world. At long last, Courtier is making good money. But now everyone wants to grow Honeycrisps
and Courtier knows soon it’ll just be another one of those cheap, generic apples. Meanwhile, Bedford is worried that low-quality
Honeycrisps will start to flood the market and make the apple’s good name worthless. Chapter 4: Trademarks!™ (Or The Fall Of
Red, The Tyrant) Bedford had patented the Honeycrisp, but the thing with patents is they expire after 20 years and in a business where trees take five
years to grow that’s not gonna cut it. But he knew of an Australian apple company
that was doing something radical. “G’day mate.” “Morning, Isaac. What’s on the docket today?” “Let’s have a look.” They had actually trademarked an apple name,
and trademarks last forever. “Just trademarking the apple, mate.” “Beauty, mate, beauty.” A few of these trademarked foreign apples
had actually started to show up in the U.S. So he decided to see if he could make that
work with a U.S.-grown apple. He could. He hadn’t quite gotten it right
for Honeycrisp, but he did with the next apple: SweeTango. He licensed it to Courtier. Now, even if someone else grew the same apple, they couldn’t use the same name. If you own the trademark, you decide who can
grow or sell your apple. You manage the market. The world of different apple brands exploded
around the Red Delicious. Envy, Cosmic Crisp, Jazz, Kanzi, Lady Alice,
RubyFrost, SnapDragon, Pink Lady. So when you’re in a store today, you’re
not just looking at a bunch of apples, you are looking at the legacy of the miracle apple — the freedom from the commodity world and the big business of a small fruit, grown in
part from that moment Bedford tasted that sweet, crisp apple on Tree 1711 in 1983.