High production costs, risks affect organic cherries

04/26/2012 02:38:00 PM
Vicky Boyd

Although demand for organically grown cherries continues to grow in many markets, supplies appear to have leveled off because of significantly higher production costs.

“It’s very expensive to produce, and the risk to the grower has really increased, especially on the pest side,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash.

“We continue to have (organics) be part of our program. I’m saying it’s not growing rapidly, but demand is growing rapidly. Unfortunately, demand is going to outstrip supply.”

Under its Artisan Organic label, Stemilt this season plans to offer chelans, bings, skeenas, sweethearts, staccatos and rainiers.

Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, Wash., also expects volumes of organic cherries to remain flat, said Suzanne Wolter, marketing director.

“We feel we’re at a good place with our volume,” she said. “If we have more people coming to us, then we’ll look at doing something more.”

Customer base

Not only do organic cherries carry higher production costs, but they are more perishable than some other organic items, such as apples, Wolter said.

“If the retailer wants to grow their organic category, they can take a lower risk with an apple,” she said.

“They have to determine whether they have that customer base that will pay that little more for that (organic cherry).”

In addition, organic cherries require higher turnover in the produce department to retain quality, Wolter said.

Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, Wash., on the other hand, has seen relatively low demand for organic cherries, partly because of pricing, said Loren Queen, marketing and communications manager.

“Cherries are seasonal and very volatile,” he said.

“Therefore, the pricing on them is generally high dollars per pound. You add on top of that the added expense of producing organically, and the premium you have to get with those cherries makes them kind of expensive.”

L&M Cos., Raleigh, N.C., handles a small amount of organic cherries, typically at the beginning of the deal before conventional fruit starts flowing, said John Long, sales manager.

That’s because organic regulations require daily packing line sanitation as well as complete line sanitation if conventional product was packed previously on it.

“It gets really difficult if you don’t have a designated organic cherry line and pretty good volumes,” Long said.



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