It's Northwest cherry season, and the whole world knows it.
Incredible sweet cherries are streaking out of the Northwest to points around the world while our growers move through their blocks as quickly as quality allows. Yet still, demand is running firmly ahead of supply. The consumer demand placed on cherries that have been delivering such high quality this season will only be increased by the results of their two week, on-going run as the most advertised fruit in the country. Thankfully, even while navigating the transition into later regions and varieties, our industry has maintained a daily shipping average in July of 520,545 (20-pound) boxes, which is a record for the period. With such sweet, dark cherries landing on shelves at the same time as health information & influencer messages are landing in consumer inboxes in key global markets, the second half of the Northwest cherry season promises more energy still to come.
Our initial monthly shipment total for June this season came in at 11 million boxes, which is about 2 million more than our early season projections. Thankfully the message has been the same – a strong & steady program from mid-June into August – regardless of the total June percentage. From our discussions with shippers and growers, the additional volume appears to be a combination of random varieties in certain areas that picked out a little heavier than estimated, combined with ideal weather that has moved some blocks ahead by a day or two.
Since July first, the Northwest cherry industry has maintained an average of 520,545 boxes (20-pound) shipped per day. That puts the total at 4.7 million boxes through Monday of this week. Compared to last year, our initial shipment data for the first week of July shows a 6% increase in daily shipments over last year's average of 495,094 boxes for the same period. This crop has exhibited similar shape and timing characteristics to the 2014 since bloom, but this July we shipped 15% more fruit per day on average during that first week of the month. The 2014 average was 457,950 boxes per day, and 2009's crop came in between the two at 479,000 boxes per day.
While the last shipping date may be as hard to nail down as the first, we can project a few things based on how our industry has progressed through the growing regions, the over-arching summer weather patterns, and direct feedback from the invaluable members of our crop estimate field team.
From this point forward, we will see a continued strong push of volume by our industry to support retail programs through the end of July and into early August at least. Consumers have gotten a taste for sweet cherries this season, and our projections continue to show late season fruit available to support end of summer promotions. We're in the peak of the season now, but the fresh cherry opportunity won't last long. Connect with your packer/shipper contacts today to ensure your chance to offer a few of those longest-hanging late season cherries to your customers.
Early demand has given in to peak of season demand, but our growers' efforts to maintain the high bar of quality this and every season has kept fruit quality high. And it shows on the shelves. Currently, Northwest cherries are the most promoted fruit in the country for the second week straight. Combined with Rainiers, there are (that we can track) 24,400 cherry ads circulating the United States this week, down a bit from last week's 25,700 ads. It's a decline in overall ad numbers, but aside from still holding the lead in the fruit category, it also masks the rise in Rainier ads from last week.
To help mark the prominence of the light sweet varieties surrounding National Rainier Cherry Day this week, we've seen a 37% increase in ads week-over-week. In fact,currently there are more Northwest Rainier cherry ads than there are for the 4 grape categories combined. While grapes may be in a lull during the shift between production regions, Northwest cherries are still facing stiff competition from the blueberry, strawberry and melon categories. The stone fruit crops of California and the Southeast have been gaining strength as well, but Northwest cherries continue to lead the department further into the summer coast to coast for the time being.
The yellow cherry crop is winding down for the season, but it certainly hasn't stopped yet. We're still shipping solid daily volume, and obviously will exceed our pre-season estimate as the chart below illustrates. We've spoken to a variety of growers, and are unclear just how much volume still remains. In terms of timing though, it's best to act now if you'd like to get your hands on any more 2018 Rainiers. This crop won't last long, especially after today's National Rainier Cherry Day celebrations and promotions help boost awareness.
By this point in the season, consumer media campaigns are in full swing in our foreign and domestic markets. Each season that involves a mix of earned media, news features, consumer events, paid media placements, influencer relationships, and a host of other promotions to tie them all together…not to mention the emails, phone calls and orchard tours to bring the resulting stories to the light of day. It's still early yet to have tally numbers, but some of the initial news and editorial release numbers have started to come in. For instance, in just one June wire release communicating the recently published results of some cherry grower-funded health research, we secured 222 placements for a cautious total of 88.3 million impressions. One article doesn't make a successful season, but every bit helps build not only awareness of the season, but adds to the case for buying fresh fruit now and saving it for use and health benefits later in the year.
Customers are driven to buy cherries, more often than not, based on the appearance of the cherries on display. Fortunately, size and color are premium this season. If you need help promoting that message, contact your Northwest Cherries representative today.
Source: The Northwest Cherry Growers