CHELAN, Wash. — There is a wide variability in the success that retailers have with cherries, and Northwest cherry marketers are trying to urge retailers to see the upside in more effective cherry merchandising.

While some retailers market cherries in as an offensive strategy, there are have retailers that think of cherries as a defensive tactic, said Mac Riggan, vice president of marketing for Chelan Fresh.

“We’re trying to convince more and more of those retailers that there is nothing that beats cherries for sales,” Riggan said.

That is accomplished through aggressive ad programs, demonstration support and branded efforts such as the Disney program, he said,

“Kids aren’t a natural cherry customer, and we’ve had moms write to us and say, ‘Your Disney characters on the bag engaged my kid, and we bought cherries for the first time,’” Riggan said.

Retailers are asked for space and location to move cherries, Riggan said.

“You like a nice 4-feet-deep by 8-feet-wide display right when consumers come in so you are engaging them,” Riggan said.

Customers also appreciate larger signs on cherry displays, he said. That big sign conveys value, he said.

Cherry marketers generally aren’t having trouble getting retail display space, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Stemilt Growers, Wenatchee.

“They know the answer — they’ve got to sell cherries when they are around,” he said.

During key weeks, Pepperl said cherries can account for as much as 15% of weekly produce sales. Primary displays, secondary displays and ad support all come fairly readily, Pepperl said.

Secondary displays in retail stores help to move fruit and more and more retailers are using them, said Suzanne Wolter, director of marketing at Rainier Fruit Co., Selah.

Wolter said some retailers have experimented with secondary display to expand the display within the produce department and also to merchandise cherries near checkout lanes. Adequate store personnel is necessary to maintain the displays outside the produce department.

“If you can accomplish that, what a great place to have cherries,” she said.

Late season sales

The 2011 and 2012 seasons surprised the industry with the late season cherry volume, said Bob Mast, president of Columbia Marketing International Corp., Wenatchee.

“We’re really striving for more late season promotions,” he said.

Mast said CMI did some tests with retailers last year where supermarkets held fairly aggressive prices for the entire month of July rather than just doing one hot promotion for the Fourth of July.

“They saw some really positive results for both sales and volume,” Mast said.

Mast said there is room to expand the number of consumers who purchase cherries. Consumer studies show about 65% of consumers don’t purchase cherries. A big way to tap into that potential demand is to put cherries out on display near the registers during prime shopping hours.

Keeping cherries top of mind among consumers and retailers throughout the summer selling season is the goal, Wolter said.

“You don’t have to have a front page top of page ad, but on weeks when cherries are not a featured item, at least have a cherry ad included somewhere in the produce ad,” she said.

Rainiers in retail spotlight

The rising popularity of rainier cherries is being shared by more retailers, Pepperl said.

Whereas some retailers years ago had rainier sales that ranged from only 1% to 5% of overall cherry business, more and more retailers are performing at levels where rainier cherries account for 10% to as high as 18% of cherry sales.

“We got to see our retail customers and tell them need to plan a number of 10% of your cherry dollars in rainier and push for 15%,” he said.

Pepperl said rainiers to consumers who want the best piece of fruit.

“The meat department sells steaks, and the produce department sells rainiers,” he said.

B.J. Thurlby, president of Yakima-based Northwest Cherry Growers said that while many growers had a break even year with dark sweet cherries, the rainier deal made money last year,” Thurlby said.

Domestically, rainiers should account for 10% of retail sales, since that is the volume the variety accounts for. Big growth potential may lie in export sales for rainiers, which often account for only 1% to 2% of exports sales.

Thurlby said the first rainiers have been hitting the market about June 20 in late-season years, but growers have planted a couple of new rainier varieties to get an earlier start. In particular, Thurlby said the first rainier-type variety — early robins — are harvested about a week before the standard rainier. This year early robins will be harvested about June 10.

“The rainier category will have critical mass from mid-June all the way through July,” Thurlby said.