“It’s certainly a wonderful healthy snack option and is really taking off across the country,” Katona said.
Martin’s also makes fresh apple cider and will still be selling it along with a variety of applesauce, jam, jelly, syrup and apple blossom honey. It also plans to dabble in apple-themed health and wellness products such as scented candles and infused soaps.
“You name it,” Katona said. “We’re really trying to put the spotlight on apples and what we do best.
“What we’re hoping to do is create a premier apple-appreciation destination, so people can come in and learn about apples and they can taste different varieties. The spotlight will be on offering consumers apples at the peak of perfection.”
The apple butter still comes from Wellesley, which is the plan moving forward, Katona said.
“But in the future, you never know,” he said. Purées, even baby food is possible.
“Maybe we will create a new product that is sort of like an apple butter that comes in a squeeze tube that goes on toast or something like that,” Katona said. “The sky is the limit. We have an innovation team looking at all sorts of new things.”
High density planting practices introduced in recent years means Martin’s is now planting up to 1,200 trees per acre in some of its orchards these days along with drip irrigation.
“So the yield per acre is much higher,” Katona said. “Not only much higher quantity, it’s much higher in quality because the apple trees are kept to a short height and the access to the sunlight is spaced out perfectly.”
The newly renovated store features a new beamed extension and sliding doors and will be more spread out inside. Apples will be stored in a walk-in cooler.
“Imagine going through Beer Store coolers and seeing all of your apple boxes all arranged up there,” said Katona.
“It looks really refreshed in there and we’re doing the exterior too, so hopefully it will look sharp.”
A new 5.5-pound box will replace the traditional 3L and 7L baskets for main apple sales. The boxes that have already been introduced by Martin’s in shopping centres will make the purchasing process more streamlined, reducing damage and the need for sorting by hand.
However there will still be bulk displays where people can choose from multiple varieties, mix and match, and buy by weight, as well as a “nature’s value option” for apples with blemishes and imperfections, including as Cortland and Spy for baking pie.
While 2020 has fallen short in many respects, the apple growing season was good.
“We had very good heat as everybody knows,” Katona said. “A lot of people complained about it, but the apples loved it, got some great size and, although it was a drier than normal season, we seemed to get rain at just the right time.”
Katona said the McIntosh and Gala apples are ready to be picked during the next couple weeks.
While Gala has usurped red delicious as the most popular apple in North America in recent years, the Ambrosia is now the “darling” of Martin’s, Katona said.
Developed in B.C. in the 1990s, it’s just a “wonderful, crisp, juicy, ultrasweet apple,” he said.
Katona’s hands-down favourite is Honeycrisp and he hopes to soon be back talking to the community about what Martin’s does on a regular basis by expanding educational opportunities for families on site.
Many changes have come from COVID-19, and some will likely remain, Katona believes.
“But we just want to engage people and have them come in and try fresh apples and have juice dribble down their chins,” he said.
“That will be definitely something that we will want to see again.“
Martin’s Family Fruit Farm
1420 Lobsinger Line, Waterloo