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Stemilt keeps an electronic eye on Rainier cherries

Stemilt Growers is taking Rainier cherries to an even higher level with a new, state-of-the-art optical sizer and in-line cluster cutter. The new equipment allows Stemilt to size large-sized Rainiers with precision in order to deliver a premium pack to the marketplace.

According to Stemilt’s marketing director, Roger Pepperl, optical sizing has been used on apples for many years, but is especially beneficial to Rainiers, a delicate cherry variety that must be handled gently at every step in the packing process.

“Rainiers, by nature, tend to be larger in size than dark-sweet cherry varieties,” Mr. Pepperl said in a press release. “Optical sizing technology uses high-speed cameras to measure the diameter of each cherry, which results in a pack full of similar-sized cherries. Rainier cherry sales are driven by size and quality, and this new technology has helped us deliver the premium product that consumers are looking for.”

Cherries are unique in that they are sized in a traditional measurement known as a “row.” This sizing dates back to when cherries were hand-packed in neat rows. Stemilt’s new optical Pearl sizer has 10 different lanes to accommodate both whole and half “row” sizes.

Another new feature of Stemilt’s Rainier cherry line is the ability to gently cut clusters of cherries into singles. An in-line cluster cutter was added this year right next to the Pearl sizer in order to cut cherries into singles and then immediately size the fruit.

“Although Rainiers are hand-picked individually in the field, they occasionally come off the tree in clusters,” Mr. Pepperl added in the press release. “Rainiers are highly susceptible to bruising, and our goal is to get these cherries from the field and into to box as gently as possible. The cluster cutter and automatic sizing reduces the number of times our cherries are handled in order to deliver the most premium eating experience for consumers.”

In 2009, Stemilt completely redesigned its Rainier line, which is located at the company’s Miller Street facility in Wenatchee, WA. The multi-million dollar investment increased sorting capacity and introduced automatic sizing technology.

Rainier cherries are a major focus at Stemilt, and have been for many years. In fact, Stemilt was among the early firms to farm Rainiers on a large-scale. Rather than using Rainier trees solely as pollinizers, the company plants entire orchards of the difficult-to-grow cherry in order to offer a specialty and highly sought-after produce item. This year, Stemilt expects to take 250,000 equivalent cartons of Rainiers to market.

Currently, Stemilt is harvesting the golden-colored cherries daily from its orchards in eastern Washington. According to Mr. Pepperl, Rainier cherries are highly promotable at retail throughout the month of July and even into early August this year due to a record late harvest start on cherries.

“The Rainier cherry crop is a thing of beauty this year. The fruit is large in size and very clean with sugar levels right where we want them to be. Consumers are in for a real treat with Rainier cherries this year,” Mr. Pepperl added in the press release.