After a long, cold winter, California cherry grower-shippers are confident retailers and consumers are more excited than usual for the first fresh cherries of the season.
Demand should be better in 2010 than in 2009, said Maurice Cameron, president of Hanford, Calif.-based Flavor Tree Fruit Co., which markets fruit packed by Hanford-based Warmerdam Packing LLC.
“Demand has been exceptional, especially compared with last year,” Cameron said. “Last year retailers were skittish on the economy. This year they have better ideas of how the cherry category can perform, even in these times.”
Helping out California shippers this year is the timing of Memorial Day, Cameron said. It falls on May 31, meaning that California will be shipping in heavy volumes and retailers can promote aggressively.
Memorial Day, which falls on the last Monday in May, can come as early as May 25.
Retailers who have been dealing with lower margins on many fresh produce items are chomping at the bit to start promoting cherries, which they think they can make more money on, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers Inc.
“Retailers have never been hungrier to show some dollar gains,” he said.
With new plantings and younger trees producing more, there should be plenty of high-quality California cherries for retailers to promote this year, with supplies expected to peak in late May and early June, Pepperl said.
Competition from up north is likely to come earlier than usual this season for California cherry grower-shippers, said Joan Tabak, sales manager for Fridley, Minn.-based Roland Marketing, which markets cherries under the Green Giant label.
“Washington looks like it’s coming very early,” she said.
Cherries could begin shipping out of the Yakima Valley by about June 1, about 11 days earlier than normal, Tabak said. Roland markets cherries from both California and Washington.
California’s deal won’t likely wind down until mid- to late June, Tabak said.
“California likes to get through as much as possible before Washington, but this year there will be some overlap,” she said.
That said, Tabak isn’t worried about a glut or precipitous dip in markets. These are fresh cherries, after all.
“Everybody talks about the economy, but cherries are one of those treats people treat themselves to,” she said. “There’s going to be really good demand.”
With the deals overlapping, and good crops expected from both states, prices should be right for aggressive promotions and very brisk movement, Tabak said.