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Cherry season is underway for Stemilt Growers, which has some sweet advice for retailers on how to make the most out of the 2015 crops in California and Washington.
The insights are derived from Stemilt’s category management program called FruitTracker, which looks at cherry category performance across the U.S. from early May to early September 2014, and compares it to the same timeframe the year prior.
On average, cherries contributed 3.2 percent of total dollars to the produce department in 2014, down from 3.5 percent the year prior, attributable to a reduced California crop in 2014. Average weekly volume was up in 2014 at 544 pounds per store per week. Cherries contributed $70 less per week on average in 2014 than in 2013, which was likely a result of a larger crop in Washington State and lower retail prices.
As expected, dark-sweet cherries dominated the category in 2014 with 94 percent of pounds sold and an average per pound retail of $2.98. The considerably smaller volume yet premium priced Rainier cherries made up 6 percent of sales with an average retail price of $4.70 per pound.
According to Stemilt Marketing Director Roger Pepperl, cherries make a big impact on total produce department performance during the late spring months and throughout the summer, and the 2015 season will be no exception.
“Though every cherry season is unique because of crop sizes, FOB’s, and retail pricing…the past two seasons reiterate the importance cherries have on a healthy produce department in the summer," says Pepperl, noting their standing as an "impulse item that drives a lot of dollars to the department and store." This year "is shaping up to be early with great volumes, leading to lots of opportunities to promote Stemilt cherries at retail from now through August,” added Pepperl.
Stemilt’s cherry season runs longer than any other grower-shipper in the country thanks to its early cherry program in California, and high-altitude orchards in Washington that extend its season into late August. An early spring in the West made for an earlier start for cherry season, and Stemilt is trending about 10 days earlier than normal in both states. Most of its California cherries will be picked, packed and shipped in the month of May, while harvest in Washington will start in late May and produce large volumes in June and leading up to the important 4th of July promotion timeframe.
Bings To Begin May 18
“California is up in volume considerably over 2014, yet still about half of a crop," Pepperl reported. "We’ll have two peaks there, the first running from May 7 through the middle of the month," followed by the second peak "with classic, high-quality Bing cherries beginning on May 18 and running through the end of May."
Promoting California cherries for the Memorial Day holiday is key, Pepperl noted, and fruit quality is very strong this year with good sizing and dessert flavors. The majority of the Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt’s California cherries are packed using state-of-the-art electronic sizing and sorting equipment, which provides consistency in every box and ensures a great consumer eating experience.
“Retailers will enjoy a nice transition from California to Washington this year, and large volumes of cherries in June from Washington,” said Pepperl, who recommends promoting dark-sweet and organic dark-sweet cherries the two weeks leading up to July 4. Meanwhile, Rainier cherry promotions should hit the week before and after July 4, and especially on National Rainier Cherry Day (July 11).
Accordingly, there will be ample promotional opportunities on Stemilt’s premium late-season cherry crop, which includes the company’s unique Kyle’s Pick and Half Mile Closer to the Moon cherry programs that help retailers promote the best quality fruit and tell the story of where the fruits came from and how they were grown.
“With good volumes and great quality, the 2015 cherry season has lots of potential at retail,” said Pepperl. “We’re excited that our season is underway and look forward to delivering lots of great-tasting Stemilt cherries now through mid-August.”