Good Fruit Grower

May 15

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Cherries later cherries L LATER and ast year's record volume of Northwest cherries shipped in August and Septem- ber was partly due to the year's cool weather and lateness of crop. But a closer look shows a growing trend of late-season shipments. Nearly 5 million boxes of Northwest cherries were shipped in August in 2011, representing almost 27 percent of last year's total crop, said B.J. Thurlby during a report to the Washington State Fruit Commission. Thurlby is president of the Fruit Commission and Northwest Cherry Growers, the promotional arm for cherry growers in the five states of Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Montana. "Some say the lateness of 2011 was an anomaly because of the weather," Thurlby said. A major shift is "But if you look at shipping data trends from the last five years, you'll see a major shift is occurring." In 2007, August cherry shipments represented 4.5 percent of the Northwest crop, growing to 13.8 percent in 2008, 11 percent in 2009, and 15.5 percent in 2010. In the early 2000s and late 1990s, August shipments were generally less than 4 percent of the crop. occurring in cherry marketing as late variety acreage comes on. by Melissa Hansen Late varieties planted Later-maturing varieties in later districts now stretch the season into late August through Labor Day. The 2011 Washington tree fruit survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, showed more than 38,000 acres planted in the state, representing a 6 per- cent increase in cherry acreage from the previous survey five years earlier. The survey found that the late variety Sweetheart, with 6,500 acres, is the sec- upward since 2006. ond most planted variety behind number- one Bing, and Skeena, another late variety, had 2,500 acres planted. Acreage of Chelan, an early variety, was reported at 2,500 acres. The survey also showed that newer cherry plantings have higher tree densi- ties. Average tree density for Sweetheart was 295 trees per acre compared with 167 per acre for Bing. Statewide, tree density increased 13 percent (235 trees per acre) compared with five years ago. Wenatchee, the latest district in the state, reported the highest tree density at 275 trees per acre compared to the Yakima district at 210. Increasing acreage of late varieties and higher densities of recent plantings all point to a growing proportion of late- season cherries from the total crop. August reality Thurlby believes that shipping an aver- age of 3.5 to 4 million boxes in August will be the new reality. "August is now a huge piece of our business moving forward," he said. Moving a significant portion of the crop in August comes with opportunity and SOURCE: Northwest Cherry Growers challenge in redefining a cherry season that now may last 16 weeks or more. Historic retailer perceptions will need changing, Thurlby said, noting that retailers often switch from July cherry promotions to other fruit in August. "For years, we've been 22 MAY 15, 2012 GOOD FRUIT GROWER 4.5 5 3.5 4 2.5 3 1.5 2 0.5 1 0 a specialty item. Now, we will have to have cherry promo- tions during the whole month of August to get the crop sold." The industry also needs to help retailers overcome August shipments Northwest cherry shipments in August have trended "cherry fatigue," a term he often hears mentioned during his visits with retailers in August. "Cherry fatigue is a retailer mindset that we must overcome. It has nothing to do with the quality of our cherries in August, which are great, but deals with retailers who want to move to other fruit." He notes there is great opportunity to drive cherry sales in August and capitalize on the core cherry consumer, but it will take education, outreach, and fresh think- ing. "Fifty-five percent of cherry sales are impulse buys and categorized as incre- mental sales. That means we're not taking sales away from other items but are adding to the shopping cart." Northwest Cherry Growers is sharing this year with retailers a late-season cherry report recently compiled by the Nielsen Perishables Group. The report identifies drivers of success in late-season cherries and provides strategies and rec- ommendations to help retailers boost cherry revenue. "The retailers that are suc- cessful are the ones that continue to pro- mote cherries late into the season," said Thurlby. "We've known this, but now we have documentation from a third party to prove it." The Perishables Group found that in peak season, cherries made up 14 percent of the dollar share of total fruit sales nationally. However, sales were still strong during the five-week late-season period last year (July 31- September 3), when they found cherries accounted for 8 percent of the dollar share of fruit sales. Retailers welcomed cherry sales last August, said Suzanne Wolter, marketing director at Rainier Fruit BOXES SHIPPED (in millions of 20-lb. equiv. boxes) 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 Photo courtesy of WilloW Drive Nursery

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