Predicted early cherry start cheers marketers

05/21/2013 12:37:00 PM
Tom Karst

Chris Falk, vice president of Washington Fruit & Produce Co., said retailers expect cherries to be readily available for Fourth of July promotions.

But some frost damage and spotty pollinating weather has made exact predictions for June difficult, he said.

“We anticipate that supplies in July will be good, so we are encouraging retailers to promote heavily post-July Fourth as well,” he said.

One shipper said the crop may nearly match last year’s record output.

The state may produce about 22 million cartons of cherries this year, according to Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers.

With rising cherry production in the state, Pepperl said there is quality inflation.

“Most people aren’t packing 12-row anymore,” he said. “Getting that fruit out of there is a good thing.”

The typical cherry harvest moves from Matawa and the Tri-Cities to the Yakima Valley, followed by Oregon and the later districts.

“If it gets too warm in a later district, those cherries will come on top of earlier ones, and that can make a little bit of a challenge in packing and selling,” he said. “Right now it is shaping up to be a great season,” Clement said.

U.S. retailers have plenty of motivation to pay attention to cherries, Thurlby said.

Thurlby said the Northwest shipping season overlap with California cherries last year was 22 days, up from 10 days of overlap in 2011. Less overlap is expected with California this year, he said.

Thurlby predicts the Northwest will have nearly 7 million cartons of cherries in June this year, up from 5 million cartons in June 2012.

July may yield shipments of about 10 million cartons, down from 13 million cartons last year he said. August shipments of cherries from the Northwest may total 2 million to 3 million cartons, which is down from 4.6 million cartons a year ago.

Even with the stronger early crop this year, Thurlby said that the challenge for the Northwest is to get retailers in the U.S. and around the world to continue to promote cherries throughout the summer.

“The Northwest cherry deal is not a June and early July deal. This year it is a June, July and first two weeks of August deal,” he said.

The Northwest industry shipped 4.5 million cartons of fruit in August last year. That was down from 5.1 million boxes shipped in August 2011, but up sharply from August shipments of just 1.5 million cartons in 2006 and a paltry 240,000 cartons in 1999.

Using five field merchandisers, a couple of whom the group shares with Chilean cherry exporters, the Northwest Cherry Growers connect with key retail accounts, Thurlby said. Northwest Cherry Growers weights it $1.6 million plus in domestic promotions toward the back end of the season, in late July and early August.


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