Exports play an important role in California’s cherry program, and it seems that role is only to going to get bigger.

In 2013, the state’s cherry growers exported 37% of their crop, said Chris Zanobini, executive director of the Sacramento-based California Cherry Board.

Canada, Japan, Taiwan and Australia are the main export destinations for California cherries, but significant movement also is taking place in markets like South Korea, Hong Kong and China.

South Korean buyers imported 550,000 boxes of California cherries in 2013, according to the cherry board. That was up from 360,000 boxes in 2012.

Hong Kong saw similar growth — about 140,000 boxes in 2013 compared to 110,000 in 2012.

China imported 200,000 boxes, up from 130,000 in 2012.

“China continues to be a growing opportunity,” Zanobini said, though sending fruit there can be challenging.

China is a big country, he said, but the infrastructure is “not always the greatest.”

One good thing about Chinese importers is that they are willing to buy good-quality fruit, he said.

That enables the fruit to get into the marketplace, and it holds up well, which sometimes is a difficult feat, he said, since U.S. growers export during a warmer season than their Southern Hemisphere competitors.

All California cherries are shipped to China by air.

Delta Packing Co. of Lodi Inc., Lodi, Calif., has received many inquiries about cherries for China, said Paul Poutre, general manager.

“That market has been growing each year,” he said.

Delta Packing exports about 30% of its cherries, primarily to Japan, South Korea, China, Australia and the United Kingdom, Poutre said.

At Flavor Tree Fruit Co. LLC, Hanford, Calif., the sales arm of Warmerdam Packing LLC, president and global sales manager Maurice Cameron said the company is “really excited about the export market this year.”

Flavor Tree expects to get off to an early start this season, and that’s good timing for its Japan cherry program.

Shipments to Japan usually start during that nation’s Golden Week holiday in late April and early May. That’s a time when the Japanese celebrate four holidays during a one-week period.

This year, Flavor Tree will be able to supply Japan with cherries up to 10 days ahead of the holiday week.

“Once their holiday week comes around, they are going to already have cherries on the shelf,” Cameron said. “It will be good for us to promote and get better markets in Japan.”

The company also will get an earlier start in South Korea and in Europe.

“All you’re doing is extending your marketing time,” he said. “It’s a beautiful thing.”

Zanobini said California growers are working to improve communications with the Japanese import and retail trade in the hope of sending a better quality cherry to the marketplace there.

“We think by doing that, we can improve the cherry experience and the amount of cherries that are actually going to the market,” he said.

One goal is to get that market to be “more flexible on pricing — to be more reflective of the supply,” he said.

Sometimes importers want to sell cherries at a certain price without regard to the principle of supply and demand.

“We want to make sure they understand what is going on here as much we understand what is going on there,” he said.

Sweet red cherries, primarily bings, are the main export variety, but the industry also has seen growth in export shipments of the coral variety, which is a bit larger and firmer than the bing.

“(Coral) really (does) well in the export markets because of its firmness,” Zanobini said.

“It’s good tasting, and it has all the right attributes,” he said.