The Sacramento-based California Cherry Board continues to move forward as it begins its third year, said Chris Zanobini, executive director.
The board focuses on two key areas — research and export trade activities.
On the research side, a committee is starting to “re-engage on cherry health and nutrition,” Zanobini said.
The California board hopes to pair up with the Northwest cherry industry to document the benefits of eating cherries.
“We know there are many,” Zanobini said. “We just have to get the data.”
Studies indicate that cherry consumption can have a positive effect on metabolic issues like high blood pressure, stroke and heart health, he said.
“There needs to be more specific research on that,” he said.
In the past, the California industry was heavily involved with the Northwest industry on the nutrition research front, he said, but that was put on the back burner during the reorganization that resulted in the formation of the California Cherry Board.
A committee already is obtaining up-to-date information on health and nutrition and the work that is being done in that area.
“We’ll eventually reach out again to the Northwest to see what we can accomplish together,” he said.
The board also has “a pretty extensive” research program that is looking at cultural practices and post-harvest activities, he said.
About $333,000 worth of projects is in the works in addition to a two-year, $500,000 fumigation project developed to combat the spotted wing drosophila that attacks ripening cherries, berries and some soft fruit.
The board also is looking into modified-atmosphere bags for long-term cherry shipments.
Research involves working with growers to deliver a better product to the marketplace, Zanobini said.
The board also focuses on export markets — China, in particular.
One of the positive aspects about the Chinese market is that importers are willing to buy good-quality fruit, Zanobini said.
That means the product is getting into the marketplace and the fruit is holding, which can be challenging because California ships during a warmer season than Southern Hemisphere competitors.
“Cherries have a better chance of making it to the market in good shape, since (Chinese importers) buy the right quality fruit,” he said.
Working with China does have its challenges, though. It’s a big country whose infrastructure sometimes leaves something to be desired, Zanobini said.
Fruit is shipped to China by air.
In Japan, California exporters are communicating with the market there and working with the Japanese import and retail trade with a goal of sending a better-quality cherry to the marketplace.
“We think by doing that, we can improve the cherry experience and the amount of cherries that are actually going to the market,” Zanobini said.
Zanobini said the California Cherry Board appears to be well received throughout the industry because it is tightly focused on specific activities.
“We’re not doing things that people would question,” he said. “We know exactly what we’re supposed to be working on, and we’re sticking to that.”
The board has tackled issues that the industry needs to work on together, he said, “not things that individual growers or companies would want to do or could effectively do on their own.”
The board is steering clear of promotions, he said, and is “very conscious” of how it spends grower-shippers’ dollars.
“The committees are industry led and industry populated, so the people who are paying are helping to make the decisions,” he said. “I think that’s the key.”
In 2013, the board was supported by assessments of 4.5 cents per box for growers and 4.5 cents for packers.
This year’s assessment will be determined by crop size, Zanobini said.