Nearly 35% of the fresh cherries grown in California are destined for export markets, grower-shippers estimate.

A strong export program not only allows grower-shippers to set premium prices for the product they sell abroad but it helps prop up domestic prices, as well.

California cherries are in especially high demand because they’re one of the first fruits of the summer season, said Larelle Miller, saleswoman for Morada Produce Co, Linden, Calif.

Except for India, California cherries can be found in most major export markets, including Japan, Korea, Canada, Australia, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Europe and some Southeast Asian markets, she said.

Miller no longer sees much of a varietal preference among export buyers.

Five years ago, you would say, “Bing is king,” she said. But today, all large, firm, sweet cherries are about equally popular.

Delta Packing Co. of Lodi Inc., Lodi, Calif., exports about 27% of its cherries, said Paul Poutre, general manager.

Korea, Japan, Australia, Taiwan and Hong Kong are among the company’s major export destinations.

There’s excitement among importers for the first new fruit of the season, as supplies from Chile and Australia wind down, he said.

Success with proprietary varieties

Maurice Cameron, president and global sales manager at The Flavor Tree Co. LLC, Hanford, Calif., sales arm for Warmerdam Packing LLC, said he also is excited about the company’s export program.

He said he plans to ship a “decent amount” of cherries to the Pacific Rim this season.

The firm has had great success with its proprietary varieties, like the dark, high-brix Sequoia, which buyers in markets like Australia and the United Kingdom prefer over other varieties, he said.

The company’s Yosemite cherry performs well in Japan because it’s firm, crunchy and has great post-harvest shelf life, he added.

“The more the better” is the philosophy of Bruce Hesse, general manager for Farmington Fresh Sales LLC, Stockton, Calif., when it comes to cherry exports.

He hopes the company will export at least 25% of its cherry crop this season.

Taiwan, Japan, Singapore and Korea are the firm’s major export destinations.

Bulk bings and corals

Rivermaid Trading Co., Lodi, Calif., exports all over, including to Asia, Europe and South America, said Mike Isola, salesman.

The company, which exports about 30% of its cherry volume, will work this season to expand its exposure in all its export markets, he said.

Bulk bings and corals are the company’s most popular export products.

Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc., which has a large cherry program in California, exports about 30% of its volume, mostly to Asia and Japan, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.

Stemilt’s customers like the brooks variety. They also buy some rainiers, Pepperl said.

More clamshells

Morada Produce exports about 40% of its volume, mostly in bulk form, but some retailers have been inquiring about clamshell containers, Miller said.

Buyers in Japan and Korea like clamshell containers, and Taiwanese importers ordered clamshells last year for the first time, Poutre said. Australian buyers are looking at them for this year.

Delta Packing exports the rest of its cherries in bulk containers.

Buyers in Southeast Asia seem to prefer large fruit in loose-pack, 5-kilogram cartons, Cameron said.
Importers in other markets prefer standard bulk cartons, except for retail buyers, who typically request clamshell containers.

Stemilt ships a few bags, but most importers request loose cherries, which are repacked when they reach their destination, Pepperl said.