Canada's apple: The legendary McIntosh is set to disappear gradually

File photo, McIntosh apples hang on a tree at Carlson Orchards in Harvard, Mass. (AP Photo/Steven Senne, File)

The McIntosh, sometimes referred to as Canada's national apple, is hardly ever planted in Quebec orchards to the point where it will likely gradually disappear from supermarket shelves.

Consumers seem to want "sweeter, less acidic and crunchier apples," says Monique Audette, an agronomist and grower who owns a 13-hectare orchard in Dunham, in Quebec's Eastern Townships region.

The McIntosh is, however, a legend.

"It is the quintessential red fruit," adds the agronomist. "For many Canadians, it is THE apple."

Discovered in 1811 by Ontario farmer John McIntosh, the apple has been sold commercially since the 1880s, according to the Canadian Encyclopedia. But the variety isn't very popular with younger generations; it doesn't pay much for apple growers when compared to other varieties. Audette predicts its market share will be very low within 10 to 20 years.

Consumers attached to the Mac will still be able to pick it up at some fruit stands, she said, and it's even likely that orchards will begin to specialize in the older varieties.

While confirming that the McIntosh is "on the decline," Quebec Apple Producers president Stéphanie Levasseur says she doesn't believe that it will disappear "that quickly" because "orchards aren't changed overnight."

"We've been trying to reduce our McIntosh production for a long time," she said in an interview with The Canadian Press. While Quebec production takes up "only 50 per cent" of the space on the shelves, "the challenge," says the union leader, is to grab the market share from foreign producers by expanding the supply of very firm and very sweet apples.

Quebec Apple Producers doesn't have a count of what proportion of apples produced in the province's orchards are McIntosh, but several stakeholders say it is about half.

One of the issues is its longevity: the apples are less suitable for market as they don't maintain their crunch over a long period of time.

A high proportion of them go to processing, which does little for producers: according to the Quebec Apple Producers annual report, the price paid for processed apples is nearly four times lower than that for fresh apples.

And even for those who buy them off the shelves, the document shows the average price for a McIntosh in Quebec supermarkets is about three times lower than a Honeycrisp, a variety of the new generation of very crunchy and juicy apples.

Quebec is still producing a lot of McIntosh apples, though, and it's because there are a lot of older orchards and producers are slow to invest in uprooting trees and planting new varieties that are more resistant to pests and whose apples are sold at a better price.

"It's happening, but not as quickly as we would like," says Levasseur, who explains that it is partly because the producers have less of a stake in the future.

"If a producer is at the end of his career, he's not going to start renewing his orchard if there is not a generation behind him who will continue," she explains.

It's potential buyers, usually existing players, with a vested interest in having the most profitable business possible who would make the necessary change. 

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