Bob Mast, vice president of marketing for Columbia Marketing International in Wenatchee, WA, said the company stays on the cutting edge with its cherry supplies. “We’re pretty progressive here at CMI in terms of varieties,” he told The Produce News on May 10.
The company accounts for 10-12 percent of the Northwest’s annual cherry crop. Bings are the largest volume variety at 43 percent. Sweethearts account for 28 percent, and Rainiers — which Mr. Mast said continue to show slight growth — rank at 12 percent of the manifest. Additionally, CMI markets Chelans and Skeenas.
The majority of CMI’s volume is conventional. The company does a small volume of organic cherries as a niche market to supply a few retailers. “Organic cherries can be pricey,” Mr. Mast observed.
Weather is all the talk in Wenatchee. Mr. Mast said cold days earlier in the production season were followed by warm weather, and the trees pollinated well. He expects the cherry harvest will begin around June 12. “Obviously, we’d love to get that started earlier,” he added. “We’re dependent upon Mother Nature to see what she can do [to push the start date].”
This season, CMI replaced some of its cherry belts with water flumes and installed secondary grading stations. “We’re constantly tweaking the cherry lines,” he commented.
According to Mr. Mast, the California cherry crop provides the Northwest growing region with an indicator of things to come. “We hope the California crop is good,” he said.
Mr. Mast expects Northwest cherry supplies for the July 4 holiday will be limited. “The Fourth of July promotions may be spotty,” Mr. Mast said. Although production will ramp up in June, Mr. Mast said variables such as packing, loading and transportation affect arrival dates of the crop at retail.
Volume will flow in an orderly manner after the holiday, with ample supplies available for balance of July and the month of August. “Retailers may have some volume in September,” he added.
CMI markets cherries under the “CMI” and “Nature’s Candy” labels. Two secondary display bins will be available. During 2010, CMI introduced its “Summer Dreams” bin which will promote cherries through early July. Then a nostalgic feel will kick in with the introduction of the newly designed “Summer Memories” display. “It is a reminder that August is the last chance to get cherries,” Mr. Mast stated.