In some ways, cherries sell themselves.
Many retail customers clamor for the fruit as a sweet sign that summer has arrived.
“It’s one of the strongest magnets of any item in the produce department,” said Don Goforth, marketing director for Family Tree Farms, Reedley. Calif. “Nothing stops people like a big cherry display. It’s like, ‘Oh man, the cherries are here.’”
But that doesn’t mean buyers don’t have to put some thought into how they promote the fruit, according to California grower-shippers.
Putting out a quality product is key, they said, and that means keeping in close touch with suppliers. Communication is important, these grower-shippers said.
“One of the biggest things we can provide for them (buyers) is a clear, consistent message about what is going on in the field,” said Louis Scattaglia, managing partner of Scattaglia Growers & Shippers, Traver, Calif.
Early in the season, Scattaglia said, those updates come weekly. But as the season progresses, those communications generally come several times a week.
Increasingly, grower-shippers are handling their own marketing directly with customers. A case in point is the recent evolution of the former California Cherry Advisory Board into a new organization dedicated to research — as opposed to generic domestic marketing campaigns for California cherries.
One customer might go with a clamshell display, Goforth said, and another one might want something completely different. “It’s definitely not a one-size-fits-all industry.”
Grower-shippers agree that the personal, one-on-one approach remains the best way to work with their retail partners.
“It’s all about relationships,” said Joan Tabak, sales manager for Roland Marketing, Fridley, Minn.
But some companies are recognizing the power of social media tools, such as Facebook and Twitter, to help drive consumer demand.
“It’s a fairly inexpensive way to introduce yourself to the masses,” said Larelle Miller, sales manager for Rivermaid Trading Co., Lodi, Calif.
Rivermaid Trading is exploring establishing a Facebook page and opening a Twitter account, she said.
Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc. is one company that attempts to maximize the value of Facebook. Marketing director Roger Pepperl said the company is building a special cherry page on its Facebook site this season.
Pepperl expects the page to launch in mid-April with items such as health and nutrition facts and posts that show visitors what is going on in the orchards and packing sheds.