Fans eagerly anticipate the beginning of cherry season each year, so retailers are wise to advertise the fruit as soon as possible.
Advertising cherries can give a retailer a competitive advantage.
“I think people will switch to a different store for a cherry purchase if you have a good enough special,” says Mac Riggan, marketing director for Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan, Wash.
During the peak of the season, cherries are prominently placed in South Bend, Ind.-based Martin’s Supermarkets’ 21 stores, says Ed Osowski, director of produce.
“We use them as a major draw,” Osowski says.
Osowski says his stores last year ran a monthlong promotion, with cherries on ad every week during the peak of the season. The chain even advertises cherries during the off-peak period. Osowski says shoppers who buy cherries also buy more of other types of produce.
“We find the cherry consumer is the best produce consumer,” Osowski says.
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James Michael, promotions director for Northwest Cherry Growers, Yakima, Wash., says a 2010 study sponsored by the agency found that buyers of dark sweet cherries spend an average of $28 more per ring compared with shoppers who don’t buy cherries. Rainier cherry buyers spend an average of $42 more.
“Those are the consumers retailers need,” Michael says.
Go big with cherries
“The key to selling cherries is display space,” says Bob Mast, vice president of marketing and food safety for Columbia Marketing International Corp., Wenatchee, Wash. “Ads get cherries moving and get a jump-start on the season, but getting them up front and center in refrigerated displays with frequent rotation is key.”
Riggan says retailers should “do everything they can to look like a cherry destination,” including displaying cherries at the front of the produce department. He says a display with an 8-foot front and a depth of 3 to 4 feet is a good start.
Michael says there is a correlation between increasing shelf space and higher sales. When measured in terms of dollar sales per square foot of display space, cherries are the top produce item in July, he says.
“During the month of July, there’s probably not an item that’s more important,” says Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee.
Michael says 53% of cherry purchases are impulse buys, so displaying cherries in front and in multiple locations is key.
Shippers offer small units for secondary displays. Chelan Fresh’s smaller units hold 20 pounds of cherries, Riggan says. They can be placed near checkout lines to encourage impulse buys. Mast says some retailers achieved 30% to 100% increases in sales by placing secondary cherry displays near checkouts during the high-traffic period of 4-6 p.m.
In addition to expanded displays, Osowski says Martin’s Supermarkets’ produce managers make sure displays always look fresh and the fruit is good quality.
“We want to always make sure the customer has an excellent experience,” Osowski says. “As long as you give them (shoppers) large, high-quality cherries, they’ll come back all season long.”
Pepperl says Stemilt expects dark sweet cherries to be available from Southern California as early as April 30. Harvest moves north through California into the Pacific Northwest, where Stemilt’s late-season staccato cherries are expected to be available into September.
Other shippers say they expect Northwest cherries to be harvested from early June through August. Domex plans to promote its late deal in mid- to late August with Montana-grown cherries, says Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima.
Pepperl says rain and temperature fluctuations can affect sales plans, so it’s important to pay attention to sales people and weather advisories.
“Make sure your plans are not set in concrete,” Pepperl says.
Rainier cherries, with their red blush, golden flesh and large size are increasingly popular with shoppers.
“Consumers are looking for big fruit with a nice crunch,” Nager says.
A good rainier is big — about 9½ to 8½ row, Pepperl says.
Shippers say rainiers represent 10% to 15% of their cherry sales. Still, some consumers don’t know what rainiers are, and they might see them as a high-priced risk, Riggan says.
“Consumers need to understand why a rainier has a different color, flesh, taste and price point,” Nager says.
He says Domex works with retailer customers to educate consumers through in-store displays, samples and social media promotions.
Pepperl says good signage can sell rainiers. Signs should explain that rainiers are high-sugar cherries with a unique flavor. Pepperl says Stemilt’s rainiers have a brix level of 22 to 24, compared with dark sweet cherries’ brix of 16 to 19.
Demonstrations are good because they let consumers make their own determinations about the value of cherries, Riggan says. Pepperl says sampling works well with rainiers because the fruit is large enough that pieces can be sliced off the pit and sampled with toothpicks. Riggan says that once consumers sample good rainiers, they’re likely to buy them.
Northwest rainiers are generally expected to be available from about the third week in June through early July. Stemilt expects to have California-grown rainiers from about mid-May into early June, and Washington-grown rainiers from mid- to late June until early August, Pepperl says.
The peak time for promoting rainiers is expected to be July 5 to July 20, Pepperl says, and he recommends promoting early and often.
“If you can sell them (the week after July 4), they’ll come back for the next three to four weeks that you have them in the store,” Pepperl says.
Chelan Fresh this season plans to market the bright red skinned, golden-fleshed Orondo Ruby for the first time, Riggan says. The cherry is expected to be available from about mid-June to early July. It looks and tastes similar to a rainier but is more acidic. Riggan says the flavor is complex and the cherry is crunchy. Chelan Fresh expects to ship about 35,000 16-pound boxes of Orondo Ruby cherries this season.
Bagged cherry success
Columbia Marketing InternationalThere are many cherry packaging options. Bags, clamshells and gusseted stand-up bags are all important, says Howard Nager, vice president of marketing for Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash.
Bob Mast, vice president of marketing and food safety for Columbia Marketing International Corp., Wenatchee, Wash., says CMI plans to expand its testing of the pouch-style, gusseted stand-up bags with handles. He says they are attractive and convenient for grab-and-go customers.
Mast says the bag’s stiffer film is easier to see through than zippered plastic bags, so it highlights the quality of cherries inside. The stand-up bags can be shingle-stacked instead of piled on top of each other the way zippered bags often are, he says.
Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee, offers clamshells, bags and a modified-atmosphere flow-wrapped punnet, says Roger Pepperl, marketing director. He says bags are dominant, but demand for clamshells is growing. Clamshells are more often used for rainiers and for larger packs, including 3- and 4-pounders.
Mac Riggan, marketing director for Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan, Wash., says the industry is still looking for the perfect cherry package. Some retailers prefer 1-pound clamshells, while others want 2-pound bags