( File photo )

Organic cherries probably lag a bit behind apples and pears in the Pacific Northwest, but cherries are making some gains, suppliers say.

“Organic cherries are much more labor-intensive to grow, which results in higher retail pricing,” said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing with Yakima, Wash.-based Sage Fruit Co. 

“The higher pricing isn’t as attractive to the end consumer.”

However, organic cherries are building a strong consumer following, Sinks said.

“We’re seeing an increase in demand for organic cherries now; however, it has not been nearly as strong as other commodities, such as apples or pears,” he said. 

“We are just now beginning to see it take off in certain markets.”

Kevin Stennes, organic manager with Chelan, Wash.-based Chelan Fresh Marketing, said he is seeing it, as well.

“Organic cherries are an important part of the manifest — a small percentage of our total and the state’s total crop, but an important piece of the puzzle,” he said.

Stennes said he is predicting that organic cherries will account for about 5% of the total Northwest cherry crop this year.

“That is trending up slowly, but not at the same pace as apples,” he said. 

“At Chelan Fresh, our organic cherry offerings are growing and expanding into earlier and later season supply.”

Organics have been a “big deal” at Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers for many years, said Brianna Shales, communications manager. 

Organics account for about 1.1% of Stemilt’s cherry volume and 1.5% of dollar sales, Shales said, noting that the company’s cherry volume jumped by 9% between 2017 and 2018.

“This is above the industry, as organic cherries are difficult to grow and you have to have the right climate to make it work,” she said. 

“Organic cherries are a small part of the category volume but a big dollar driver and important offering for the organic consumer and to round out this category.”

“The other big news on organics is that we are adding a new top seal packaging line to organic cherries, which allows us to pack both 1-pound and 2-pound organic top seal packages,” she said. 

“Top seals are easy to scan and reduce the amount of plastic that a clamshell requires by approximately 25%. That’s a big deal to the consumer and will also be retail-friendly.” 

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