Retailers look to make up ground with Northwest cherries - The Packer

Retailers look to make up ground with Northwest cherries

05/23/2014 09:51:00 AM
Tom Karst

WENATCHEE, Wash. — The transition from California’s short cherry season to the Northwest should lead to a strong start for retail promotions in June.

Reminiscent of 2009 and 2012, the Northwest cherry crop will be big this year. But Bob Mast, president of Columbia Marketing International LLC, said one compelling difference between the 2014 crop and those years is that California’s volume will be out of the way.

The shorter California crop will make the transition to Northwest cherries easier, said Keith Mathews, chief executive officer of FirstFruits Marketing of Washington, Yakima.

“California won’t be completely out, but it will dovetail a much cleaner deal than in the past,” he said.

California’s cherry crop will be nearly finished once the Northwest cherry crop begins in earnest, Mast said.

“We are hearing anywhere from 4.2 million boxes to barely 5 million boxes in California,” Mast said.

“If that is indeed the case, they should be completely out of the way for the most part when we get started and there won’t be much crossover,” he said.

Since California’s cherry crop was close to 8 million cartons last year, supermarkets will be behind in their sales in the category, Mast said.

Last year, California’s cherry marketers saw peak volume the week of May 25, with 909 (40,000-pound) truckloads shipped that week. By June 8, fresh cherry shipments from California had declined to 400 truckloads. This year, early June volumes from California should be even less.

In 2013, Washington cherry shipments in 2013 tallied 766 truckloads the week of June 22, increased to 880 truckloads the week of June 29 and then declined to 816 truckloads the week of July 6.

Shipments then increased again to 922 truckloads the week of July 13 and hit the season’s peak of 1,102 truckloads the week of July 20.

In 2012 — the year of the record 23 million-box record crop that is sometimes compared with 2014 — shipments of Washington cherries peaked at 1,459 truckloads the week of July 7. Three other weeks that year saw cherry shipments exceed 1,300 truckloads, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Similarly strong shipments of Northwest cherries are expected for 2014, shippers said.

“It should lead to really good momentum out of the gate for the Northwest,” Mast said. “Our timing looks to be fairly good to get Fourth of July promotions,” he said.

Another favorable prospect is sufficient bloom gap between the early and the late districts. That should lead to orderly marketing for a historically large crop, Mast said.

Northwest cherry shippers will have the volume to help retailers make up the sales they might not be able to realize with the California deal, said Suzanne Wolter, marketing director for Selah-based Rainier Fruit Co.

Incremental sales increases over 2013 for retailers could be substantial, since Northwest cherry volume last year was limited by rains, said Chris Falk, vice president of Washington Fruit & Produce, Yakima.

“The chains are obviously gung-ho, since last session was a wipeout,” he said. Cherries could offer huge incremental dollars to the produce demand, especially if some drought-stricken California produce items are in shorter supply.

Northwest shippers last year anticipated they would move about 7 million boxes in June, but because of 12 days of rain in June, the total packout for the month was just 4.7 million boxes, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers.

This year, with California in short supply, demand for cherries in June should be fairly brisk and the industry has the potential for 7 million boxes that month.

Thurlby said July may feature up to 13 million boxes of cherries and August volume is expected to be up to 3 million boxes.

The harvest timing of the 2014 Northwest cherry crop is ahead of some recent years, Thurlby said. In 2009, the first cherries in the Northwest were not picked until June 18.

The timing this year is expected to be June 4-5, close to the start date of June 1 last year.

“This is two years in a row with an earlier than average start date,” Thurlby said.

The 10-year average start date is June 7, he said.



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