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Cherry, apple industries weather uncharacteristic production dynamics

by Lora Abcarian | November 28, 2011

“We had atypical weather and an atypical season,” James Michael, promotions director for Northwest Cherry Growers, told The Produce News.

Although cold spring and summer weather delayed the start of the 2011 cherry season, retailers were able to capture sales later than normal.

Cool weather prevailing in the Pacific Northwest pushed the marketing season out. “A key to this season was the spread of the crop,” he stated. “Though we shipped our first cherry on June 14, the same as 2009, the years looked different from bloom onward. Bloom this year was spread out, and cool weather throughout our spring and summer extended the ripening period.”

“Demand was incredibly strong from the start, and our industry worked double-time trying to fill retailer requests, especially after California’s season ended early,” he continued. “We missed the Fourth of July with volume again, which historically makes it more of a challenge to move the crop. However, as our season has run later the last few years, retailers have discovered the impact cherries continue to have in their departments throughout August.”

The collective harvest for the five states represented by Northwest Cherry Growers — Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Montana — stretched out over 94 days. “This was our biggest August shipping period on record, with 4.9 million boxes shipped from Aug. 1 onward,” Mr. Michael said. “Talking with retailers after the season, it appears that many were able to make up any sales they felt they may have lost in the early season with these late-season cherry sales.

“Again this year, three-quarters of our total cherry crop were big, ten-and-a-half row and larger sized,” he said. “The eating quality was fantastic this year across the board — all sizes, reds and Rainiers. I’m sure that’s one of the key factors bringing consumers back for repeat purchases throughout the summer.”

On the retail side, Mr. Michael said that cherries are a winner. “Cherries are a key item each summer for sales, bringing in more dollars per square foot in July than any other item,” he noted. “The Northwest missed a lot of the weather issues afflicting other growing regions, which placed extra emphasis on the cherry category. Fortunately, our season ran through August with high quality throughout, so the consumers kept coming back for more.”

Turning to apples, Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, said that the Nov. 1 crop estimate came in at 101.7 million boxes, a revision from the 106.3-million-box crop originally estimated in August. Although cool weather in the region also affected apple production, Mr. Fryhover was upbeat about the season. “Even with a harvest start two weeks late, we are 1 percent ahead of last year’s sales to-date,” he told The Produce News on Nov. 9. Although sizing was a half-size smaller than originally anticipated, Mr. Fryhover said that there was “no significant impact. Quality is very good,” and he said that the crop was clean.

Roughly 30 percent of this season’s crop will be sold to export markets. “Key markets remain Mexico, Canada, India, China and Indonesia,” Mr. Fryhover said. “I would consider India still developing, although we hit over 3.3 million [boxes] last year.”

Red Delicious still is the most exported variety. Gala, Golden Delicious, Fuji and Granny Smith follow in order of volume for the top-five export varieties.