WENATCHEE, Wash. — Later-yielding cherry varieties are emerging as more important to growers and helping the industry move increasing volumes of fruit, industry leaders say.
New plantings of early robin has spurred early rainier volume, while growth on the red cherry deal has been with the skeenas, sweethearts and other late season varieties, said Bob Mast, president of Columbia Marketing International Corp., Wenatchee.
The later varieties can yield 20 tons per acre and give growers good fruit size, he said.
Most of growth in cherry production has come later in the season at Rainier Fruit Co., Selah, said Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing.
“The bing is still the largest-volume variety we grow, and it comes on the heart of the season,” she said.
On the other hand, she
said sweethearts and skeenas are expanding volume later in the season.
Steve Clement, chief operating officer and general manager for Sage Fruit Co., Yakima, said the bing variety is decreasing in importance while the sweetheart variety is growing.
Statistics from Northwest Cherry Growers show that bings accounted for 37% of the 2011 crop but just 22% of the 2012 crop.
The percentage of the crop called “dark sweets” — a generic name that includes several dark red cherry varieties — grew from 20% of the crop in 2009 to 43% in 2012.
Some retailers have requested a box label or stamp with “dark sweets” rather than a specific variety, industry leaders report.
Clement said the cherry industry is largely marketing dark sweet varieties instead trying to highlight each particular variety. While some retailers have said they don’t want the lapin variety, that preference is typically not hard and fast, he said.
Retailers understand they need all cherry varieties to move through the whole season, Wolter said.
“I think a lapin grown and harvested in the right way is still a viable cherry,” Clement said. “It is a good eating cherry and a cherry that you can make money off of at the retail level.”
Clement said the rainier variety is increasing in popularity while retaining a premium niche.
“Rainiers need to sell for more money because they are lot more expensive to pack and handle,” he said.
Statistics from the Northwest Cherry Growers show the 2012 rainier crop was a record-setter, with just more than 2.3 million 15-pound cartons shipped.
Still, it accounts for only 7% to 10% of Northwest cherry volume, and that share has remained stable over the past few years.
The big challenge for the rainier variety is to get consumers to try it. Once they try it, they are sold, Clement said.
Rainier Fruit Co. has 15% of its volume in the rainier variety, Wolter said.
“We see continued growth with the rainier,” she said.
More and more retailers promoting rainiers along with the dark sweet varieties. Even so, Wolter said rainiers represent a great opportunity for retailers, as many consumers have never tried a rainier and still don’t know the yellow cherry tastes differently than the dark sweet cherries.