Retailers and consumers should have no problem finding organic cherries from the Pacific Northwest this season.
Last year, 2.3% of the Northwest cherry crop — about 600,000 20-pound boxes — was grown organically, said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers, Yakima, Wash.
“It’s not a huge amount, but it’s an important amount,” he said.
And the organic volume seems to be inching upward each year.
Stemilt Growers Inc., Wenatchee, Wash., ships a plethora of organic product throughout the season, said Roger Pepperl, marketing director.
“Organic cherries are doing well,” he said. “We have a really big supply in the month of July.”
About 20% of the company’s cherries are grown organically, and they’re packed under the Stemilt Artisan Organic label.
Stemilt packs organic cherries in pouch bags as well as 1- and 2-pound clamshell containers.
Bing, skeena, Staccato and rainier are the company’s major organic varieties, but Stemilt is starting to ship some organic Skylar Rae cherries and will offer more in the future, he said.
Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan, Wash., grows a small amount of organic cherries, said Mac Riggan, director of marketing.
Conventional cherries themselves are rather pricey, and organic fruit costs even more, which might lessen their appeal to consumers, he said.
Besides, “It’s hard to grow organic cherries,” Riggan said.
For one thing, there’s nothing to spray as a fungicide.
“If they get wet, it’s really hard to keep them from getting mildew,” he said.
Chelan Fresh Marketing ships about 60,000 boxes of organic dark sweet cherries each year, he said.
The program has been holding steady.
“There hasn’t been any huge growth that I’ve seen in the last few years,” Riggan said.
Sage Fruit Co., Yakima, will launch a small organic program this season, said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing.
He said he expects the program to grow in the coming years as more of the company’s retail partners ask for organic cherries.
“Like apple sales, sales of organic cherries are growing,” he said.
Sage Fruit Co. sells organic dark sweet cherries in clamshell containers and pouch bags.
At Domex Superfresh Growers, Yakima, organic cherries “are a big part of what we do,” said Mike Preacher, director of marketing.
The company has offered organic cherries for at least 10 years, he said, and continues to invest in the category. P
“It will always be a managed percentage of our portfolio,” Preacher said.
Organic is a category that the company will work with retailers to promote, he added.
Although Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers, Wenatchee, sells organic cherries, the company is not a big organic player, said Scott Marboe, director of marketing.
The firm has offered organic cherries for a couple of years, he said, and has some orchards in transition, which should expand its organic volume “next year and beyond,” he said.
Marboe said he expects the organic cherry category to grow, just as other organic categories are growing.
Oneonta Starr Ranch Growers offers organic versions of most of the cherry varieties it grows conventionally, he said.
Organic sales seem to be expanding into conventional stores, not just natural food or specialty markets, Stemilt’s Pepperl said.
“Mainstream supermarkets have really jumped in the pool, and they’re selling a lot of them now,” he said.
But barriers, such as fungal issues and mildew, can dissuade growers from planting significant organic acreage, he said.
Organic cherries can be difficult to grow, Thurlby agreed, but he said several large growers have ground in transition.
“People are seeing that the niche is continuing to evolve,” he said.