Stemilt's Roger Pepperl, Chelan Fresh's Mac Riggan, and Borton Fruit's Eric Borton Talk Hot Cherry Market
UNITED STATES - The California and Northwest Cherry seasons are ramping up, and weather is playing a huge role in this year’s timing and productivity. Cherries are a premium product in produce departments, and with California kicking off the season with light volumes, the market is hot and demand is strong. So, get them while they are available.
“Timing is early this year. Stemilt is about 7 days early in California with Monday, April 25th having fruit for sale. Washington also looks very early with fruit projected to be picked and packed around May 29th to June 1st as potential start dates. This is a good 7 to 9 days early in Washington also,” Roger Pepperl, Marketing Director, Stemilt Growers notes. "I would definitely call the market tight in California with a manageable but promotable Washington deal, at present.”
An early crop isn’t necessarily a bad thing as Mac Riggan, Director of Marketing, Chelan Fresh, tells me. “While the crop is coming in early this year, it will also set us up very well for July 4th promotions and ads. Growing conditions are conducive to producing a high-quality crop. When quality is good, cherries sell,” says Riggan.
Eric Borton, VP of International Sales & Marketing, Borton Fruit, agrees, “So far we have not experienced anything that we expect to affect the quality of the cherries overall. We expect to have excellent quality for Northwest Cherries for the Season. Weather events during harvest can have a big impact on quality, but not at this point.”
Mac does tell me that the warmer weather has caused more blooming to occur in the same window rather than at different times spread throughout the season. This could lead to a more compressed season. But the important thing to remember is quality. “Take advantage of the window of time you have to promote during June and July,” Mac notes.
When it comes to volumes, this year is providing a bit more of a challenge, though quality it still optimal. Last year California had a crop failure with well under 3 million boxes packed in the entire state.
“We may exceed 6 million boxes up to 7 million as a state. Stemilt should have 10 to 12% of that crop. Washington looks to be around 18 million to 20 million boxes,” Roger notes.
Roger shares other challenges that the state has faced in terms of weather and temperature, though it may be too early to tell the effects as of now.
“Although the entire State’s bloom was good and the acreage is there for a big crop, the pollination of the crop suffered in many areas of the state due to cold winds which kept the bees from working to potential. It is really too early to tell as of now as our high elevation (A Half Mile Closer to the Moon program) just started blooming," Roger tells me.
This year, the best time to promote is the week before Memorial Day and even the full 10 days prior. Advertising two weeks prior to July 4th on Dark Sweet and Organic Dark Sweets is also ideal. Rainier Cherries should be advertised the week before July 4th and the week after July 4th.
For Stemilt, Kyles Pick programs for Dark Sweets should be promoted for the 3 weeks after July 4th and the Half Mile Closer to the Moon program for Dark Sweets can be advertised the first two weeks of August this year. The company also has a new variety in California called the Royal Hazel which retailers will definitely be seeing more of in the near future. So, stay tuned for more information to come!
Chelan Fresh will be promoting their Cup o’ Cherries again this year, a fairly new item to the company’s portfolio. Chelan shipped 3,000 cases last year and has 7,000 slated for 2015. The company will also be launching its new 1 lb. clamshell with extra large dark sweet cherries offering size 9.5 and larger. The popular Orondo Ruby variety, a large cherry with great flavor that ships well, will also be available in promotable volumes with harvest beginning as early as June 10th.
Borton is anticipating a strong volume on dark cherries through the complete month of June and carrying through mid-July. They will also be promoting Rainier Cherries by the second week of June through mid-July. Raniers are a great compliment to The Dark Red Cherries.
It’s prime time for Cherries as we move through the Spring and into the Summer. Stay tuned for more as the cherry season progresses.