When a special trade program opened a limited window of opportunity this summer, Northwest cherry growers pre-sold more than 155 tons of fruit to Chinese consumers via that country"s version of Amazon.com.
Two online pre-sale campaigns lasted a little more than two weeks. They involved collaboration between the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Trade Office Shanghai, Tmall.com and U.S. food producers.
Cherries were the only fresh produce commodity among 60 food products involved, according to Tmall.com officials.
Keith Hu, director of international operations for Northwest Cherry Growers, Yakima, Wash., coordinated efforts for growers.
He said Chinese consumers want the largest, sweetest cherries and they are willing to pay for them.
"They (cost) three times more per pound in China than they do in the U.S.," Hu said.
Hu described Tmall.com as the Chinese version of Amazon.com. The online retailer charges consumers a deposit when they pre-order items for delivery later.
The cherries from Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana and Utah were sold before they were picked, Hu said.
The venture into fresh and fragile foods is new for Tmall.com, said spokeswoman Candice Huang.
Huang said the Web business launched the pre-sale channel last year and is testing the fresh sector based on consumer demand, which has been tremendous.
In the first six months of 2013, Tmall.com saw sales of imported food surge 500%.
Hu said it is an example of how a strictly consumer-driven supply chain can work to the advantage of all parties. The growers know their crop has buyers, distributors know what to expect and when, consumers get what they want delivered fresh.
"We are definitely working with Tmall.com again," Hu said. "I"m going back to China in September to begin preparations for next year."