Even after the Fourth of July passes, opportunities abound for sales of Northwest cherries.
In fact, another production peak comes in August, offering additional promotional opportunities, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, Yakima, Wash.
During the past four or five years, the season has extended into late August and early September. Last year, for example, only about 20% of the 18.3 million box crop was moved before July 4, he said.
That compares to 10-15 years ago, when half the crop was picked by July 4.
West Dundee, Ill.-based Nielsen Perishables Group recently completed a white paper for the Northwest Cherry Growers that examined late-season cherry sales based on scan data from top-performing, average and bottom-performing cherry retailers.
The analysis included sales data from all regions of the country and all store sizes, ranging from chains with fewer than 10 stores to ones with more than 100 outlets.
For the purpose of the study, late season was considered from July 31 through the end of the season in early September.
“The guys who were really successful, they continued to promote, they kept cherries on ad, kept them in a primary location and had more than two to three (stock-keeping units),” said James Michael, promotion director at Northwest Cherry Growers.
During July, cherries comprised about 14% of overall fruit sales, he said.
During late season, cherries accounted for about 8% of fruit sales on average, according to the report.
For top-performing retailers, cherries — combined dark sweet and rainier — made up 11% of total fruit sales, whereas they accounted for only 4.5% of fruit sales in bottom-performing retailers.
“(Bottom performers) are still operating under that old approach of when you get to the end of July, the cherry season is wrapping up so you cut display size, take the price up and the flow moves to the back of the department,” said Steve Lutz, executive vice president of Nielsen Perishables Group. “Not surprisingly, you don’t sell very much.”
Translated into dollars, cherries netted the top performers nearly $17,000 per store more than the bottom performers during the five-week period, Michael said. For a chain of 100 stores, that’s a difference of $1.7 million.
The data also contradict the notion that consumers suffer from “cherry fatigue” after the big July push, Lutz said.
“It’s really so important for retailers to think about it and the fact that cherry buyers don’t suddenly decide they aren’t going to buy cherries anymore,” he said. “Consumers love cherries, and they’re just as likely to buy them in August as they are in July.”
The white paper backed that, showing that August cherry purchases per person were slightly greater than in July among key cherry consumers — those with higher educations and incomes greater than $75,000, Michael said.