Knight’s Appleden Fruit Ltd.: Growing the Finest Apples for a Century

Apple lovers around the world have been enjoying the Knight family’s Big A brand fruit for over 100 years. Based out of Ontario, Knight’s Appleden Fruit Ltd. (Appleden) operates a state-of-the-art facility capable of providing 25,000 bushels of controlled atmosphere on site using nitrogen generation and automated monitoring, assisted by a packing plant with capable of 4,000 boxes per day and a fleet of air ride refrigerated commercial vehicles. This assures that Appleden can provide customers with the type of fresh, colorful produce that established the company’s reputation.

“My great grandfather began growing apples on this same piece of property we operate from today,” explains David Knight, general manager of Appleden. “At the time we grew them and shipped them to the UK and other parts of Europe as a part of a farming co-operative. As each generation took over we grew, and when my dad finally bought the business from my grandfather we transitioned to being a grower and packer. Today, we harvest from more than 1,000 acres and do business across Canada, the UK, Central America and the Caribbean.”

Producing one of the most ubiquitous fruits in the world, the company grows apples in Colborne, 120 kilometers northeast of Toronto, which provides an international transportation hub. The scenic hillsides of Nothumberland County and their proximity to Lake Ontario ensure that the lake’s cool night breezes mediate temperatures in the orchard and provide the perfect atmosphere for firm, juicy apples in nine varieties, running the gamut from Spy to Spartan.

“Over the years we have expanded the variety of apples we grow,” explains Knight. “We now grow a lot of Gala apples, which have become a very popular variety, and Honeycrisp, which are some of the most popular apples in the world.”

Always Striving for an A-Plus Grade

Appleden’s success over the past four generations has been influenced by more than just the number of apple varieties the company is capable of producing. At the core of the company is a willingness to go above and beyond to assure clients achieve consistently pleasurable product.

“We produce our apples under the Big A brand name, but apples as a commodity don’t exactly have recognizable brands. You can’t exactly reinvent the wheel in this industry. An apple is an apple,” affirms Knight. “So when you look to differentiate yourself form other companies, quality and service are really the only things you have to work with, which is why we have our own on-site storage facility so we can store about 80 percent of our total product and why we own and operate our own trucking company. Other than that we aren’t doing anything too different than anyone else in the industry. We just look to stay current.”

One of the ways Appleden has modernized the apple-growing process is through its quality control methods, which begin in the field with irrigated pest management systems. Additionally, specific soils are graded, because specific types have an effect on apple variety growths. The packing facility has means to monitor colour grade size, assuring only the finest apples are shipped. And field managers work with other local growers to supplement crops with apples that pass a strict inspection.

In order to stay up to date, Appleden has also invested in means to address some increasingly prevalent food industry concerns. “The business has changed a lot over the past 15 years, because food safety is a great concern, especially recently,” says Knight. “Over the past five years we have begun adopting technology that increases the traceability of our apples. It started with labeling smaller packages and crates of apples, but the problem with that model is that when you unpack the apples for sale in a grocery store, the crates get thrown out and with them goes your traceability.

“One of the most major investments we have made recently was the $1 million we invested for new technology that allows for 100-percent traceability,” continues Knight. “We ended up choosing to use a paper-based sticker for concerns of environmental sustainability, but essentially this technology assigns an apple a PLU number that we can then use to find out absolutely everything that happened to that apple before it ended up on a supermarket shelf. Every single loose apple can be identified and we can find out exactly where it was grown, what kinds of chemicals were applied, and when it was packed and shipped. It’s incredible technology, because to look at it it’s nothing special, just a sticker on an apple.”

The Apple Wants to Fall Far from the Tree

With the concerns of clients and the public addressed, two of the major future goals for Appleden will be keeping costs down and maintaining profitability for the fifth generation. “We’re looking at building a 250 kW solar project to defray the cost of electricity at our packing plant, but aside from that my most major concern is organizing the succession of the company to the next generation,” says Knight. “You can’t exactly will a company to your kids or just give it to them. You have to pay your fair share of taxes and that can be an incredibly expensive thing when all of your profits from the company get reinvested right back into it.

“So, for the next few years’ we’re going to look for ways to maintain our profitability,” continues Knight. “We haven’t explored the Asian markets very much as of yet, but it is something we are interested in pursuing. There is a lot of interest from countries like India and China to import our apples and it would be a great way to diversify our customer base.”

With efficient, accountable productivity and a strong sense of pride for its customer service, Knight’s Appleden Fruit Ltd. is bound to impress the globe with delectable apples for another 100 years.