Rubens, a little-known bicoloured dessert apple, is being planted in the UK from this month.

The Italian hybrid of Gala and Elstar is already trademark protected in the EU and has sold well in Italy. Breeders Consorzio Italiano Vivaisti are targeting production of 50,000 tonnes in the long run, and expect to hit a volume of 14,000 tonnes in three years.

The Italians have signed a marketing agreement with Norman Collett, one of the UK's largest fruit marketing groups, whose Kent-based growers are planting the first 30,000 trees.

"These will be followed next spring by a further 70,000," said MD Andy Sadler. "We have plans for more." As fruit becomes available, Collett's will join the other eight EU growers to develop an international promotional programme to raise the fruit's profile.

English-grown Rubens is not expected to appear in volume as a mid-season variety until 2010, but Sadler said the initial response from buyers had been good.