Cherry Growers Report Excellent Quality, but Struggle With Pricing Trends
NORTH AMERICA - It just hit me the other day that summer is officially over and boy is that a bummer feeling. While many are lamenting the end of beach visits, backyard barbecues, and all manner of fun-in-the-sun activities, I will be mourning the ending of something else—cherry season. Although we’ll all have to wait another year for peak-quality cherries, there were promising category developments this past season. I spoke to a few experts who informed me of a summer with bigger and better cherries, as well as price trends that have been evolving over the past few years.
“We had stellar quality this season, which was similar to last year, but sizing was off the chart on very large cherries this year,” Tim Evans, Sales Manager at Chelan Fresh, said about the past season’s cherry harvest.
Chelan Fresh grows over a dozen varieties of cherries each year, including several varieties of dark sweet cherries and yellow cherries, throughout the state of Washington and up to the Canadian border. The grower recently wrapped up and shipped its last cherries on August 17, capping off a successful season. Some rain events and heavy wind this past season diminished volume, but the quality remained exceptional.
“The overall volume was down for Chelan Fresh this season compared to the last couple of years,” Tim commented. “Our grower base is very proactive on growing the best fruit possible as they realize the expectations of consumers is at an all-time high.”
Despite the lower volume, Chelan Fresh experienced steady prices this season, and while the market was reliable this year, other growers have expressed concerns about the overall pricing trends for the category.
“Prices this season were good, but they have to go up over the long term to stay in business,” Brad Fowler, Co-Founder of Hood River Cherry Company, told me. “Cherry prices have been kind of stagnant for a number of years. Prices were okay this year, but last year they weren't, and the year before they weren't. The industry needs to make up the lost ground from the last five years.”
Hood River, an Oregon-based grower, has also recently wrapped up its cherry season, and even though pricing remained an issue, Brad reported that the grower also enjoyed a season full of top-quality fruit.
“We had really good quality cherries this year,” he said. “It was really kind of exciting to be a cherry grower again this year because the demand was high. Even though we had a fairly good-sized crop here in the Northwest, they seemed to move through the market well. That means that when people were buying cherries, they were coming back for repeat purchases. That's what we need.”
Quality from the very start is the key to repeat customers, Brad told me, as if the industry delivers poor-eating cherries in the first half of the season, then shoppers will be less likely to purchase cherries again later in the season—even when the quality improves. Consumers who are burned once are twice shy, as the saying goes, so kicking off the season with a bang is crucial for gaining those repeat customers.
The cherry harvest season may have come to a close, but for Hood River, cherries are a year-round affair. To stay on top of this category’s market, the fruit always has to come first, even when it’s not being picked.
“You think that cherry season is over and you can sit back and won’t have much to do till next year, but for farmers, harvest is just another part of the season. We start growing next year's crop the day we are done with this year's,” Brad assured me.
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