“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.