Also, cherries, like other fresh fruits set to begin shipping in the coming months, should benefit from consumers’ longing to put the memorable Winter of 2009-10 firmly behind them, Tabak said.
“It’s been a long winter,” she said. “People are ready for the summer fruit. It’s one of the sure signs that summer is on its way.”
Dave Parker, marketing di-rector for Traver, Calif.-based Scattaglia Growers & Shippers LLC, agrees that the sight of California cherries in produce departments will be a much-needed balm for consumers this year.
“People are coming out of winter, they want something besides their usual winter mainstays, and here come cherries,” he said. “It’s a sure sign of spring.”
Even without a particularly long, cold winter to give the market an extra boost, Parker said the popularity of cherries, regardless of weather, continues to ensure strong demand — even with a big crop, which is what Scattaglia and other California grower-shippers are expecting in 2010.
One of the reasons, Parker said, is that in an age of year-round sourcing, cherries still have the distinction of being a rarity — an item that’s available only for a few months every year.
“Demand for cherries continues to grow,” he said. “Consumers love the convenience, flavor and seasonality. It’s one of the last items that really shouts out ‘seasonality.’ And there’s the health message. There are a lot of reasons for cherry sales to continue to go up and up.”
Steve Nelsen, managing partner of Kingsburg, Calif.-based Valhalla Sales & Market-ing Co., is more concerned than some of his fellow grower-shippers about 2010 markets.
“One thing about cherries is, you have a few rough years, then one good year, then a few more rough years and another good year,” he said. “I’d like to see it maintain a nice level.”
Historically, Nelsen said, the California deal has started in the stratosphere — with boxes selling in the triple digits — then fallen off a cliff as supplies quickly ramped up.
Usually, the bottom of the cliff isn’t too low, he said. But in years like the present one, the large crop could make the fall a little more precipitous than usual.
“When people realize the size of the crop, it could drive it down quicker,” he said.
The economy also could have an effect on demand for California cherries this year, Nelsen said.
Cherries are in a special category to some extent because they are still one of the few true seasonal items still left in the produce department. Because of that, there will always be a demand for them.