Following a long and cold winter, organic cherries will be in abundant supplies over the next two months, according to several Washington grower/shippers. While only a very small percentage of the overall cherry crop, organic cherry production continues to grow throughout the Northwest.
While a small part of their market, organics are on the rise," said James Michael, vice president of marketing for North America, Northwest Cherry Growers, a Yakima organization that represents cherry growers in five states, “The Northwest region is the country's largest producer of sweet cherries, each season growing about three-fourths of nation's sweet cherries. As of last year, shipped volume of organic cherries rose to three percent.”
(Photo Credit: Northwest Cherry Growers)
Michael adds cherry harvest has begun as late as June 13th in recent years. “With retailers and shippers looking to solidify merchandising plans anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks out, it makes it a challenge to line up promotions. When most of the crop ships within 45 and 60 days from the start of harvest, it's critical to have as much quality information as possible with which to make decisions.”
Briana Shales, communications manager for Stemilt, said significant cherry production should be underway by mid-June. “We had a late cherry bloom in Washington following a long winter. We expect many shipping weeks of organic cherries, with the bulk of the fruit coming off the tree from June 26 to July 17.”
Blake Belknap, organic sales manager for Rainier, projects a slightly earlier start, with production slated for the first week of June. “Bloom is set, and looks to be a fantastic year. Our earliest cherries are organics and we believe our harvest will start on June 8. Organic cherries haven't reached volumes to come close to market demand. And we are seeing more retailers developing strategies in merchandising organics, giving them further momentum.”
All agree higher volumes will allow for greater promotion at retail. Says Belknap, “We are seeing retailers begin to promote organics for month long periods, even replacing conventional fruit.”