The star of FSB's 2005 Next Little Thing was the peacotum, the first three-fruit hybrid (peach, plum, and apricot) to hit the mass market. Since then its maker, Zaiger's Genetics (which has yet to build a website), has continued to apply for patents for five to seven new fruits a year. In 2007, the family-run firm was particularly excited about a patent for the escort, a blend of apricot and pluot (the company's apricot-plum hybrid) that got its name because it's a great pollinator and has parented a number of Zaiger's hybrids.
Zaiger's, based in Modesto, Calif., has planted seedlings and expects to generate patented trees in three years, including a cherry-plum cross and a dwarf plum that will grow to about eight feet, half the height of a standard plum tree. This shorter variety, which will bear pluots, is ideal for commercial growers because they can spend less on labor if workers can reach the fruit from the ground instead of having to climb the tree.
The company also won a major patent lawsuit in Australia, which it regards as the source of many of its intellectual-property-theft problems, for a sizeable but undisclosed sum. "I'd call it our biggest win," says Leith Gardner, the daughter of founder Floyd Zaiger.