Northwest Growers Weather the Storms and Push On into Harvest

Cool weather has continued to slow the start to the Northwest cherry harvest over the past week. Fortunately, that allowed many of our growers the time to mitigate any effects from several rain storms that passed across Washington state. Quality and color remain exceptional, but sizing has been a challenge in some early variety orchards. Our harvest has begun to shift into Bings, and with that we are seeing a return to more typical sizing for the Northwest. We anticipate manageable growth in volume over the next week, in alignment with kickoff promotions worldwide.

2021 Shipped Crop To Date: 1.9 million boxes

2021 Round 3 Crop Estimate: 22.4 million boxes

The action of two high pressure ridges brought an atmospheric river of subtropical moisture over the Northwest for much of the past week. Fortunately, cool daytime temperatures followed most of the rain events, which allowed growers the chance to dry their cherries. Nonetheless, these events have further slowed the development of the front end of the Northwest crop. However, the high pressure ridge over the Pacific has since moved ashore, pushing the moisture out of the region and bringing with it clear skies and warmer temperatures. We expect this to bring about an uptick in harvest momentum.

As growers move into more orchards and more varieties, we are seeing some increase in row sizing. As harvest began, packouts of smaller row sizes were more plentiful than estimated during the pre-season. There are certainly lots of orchards with big fruit, but the chart below illustrates the story with a bit more detail. While we’ve seen more 9.5 row packed this season compared to last year, we’re also seeing more 11 row but less 10.5 row. It’s just a reminder that Mother Nature is truly in charge of each season! 

Fortunately, even those cherries coming in at smaller sizes are still packing out with exceptional color, taste and sweetness. Optical sorting technology has produced a more uniform consumer pack, which ultimately means those consumers taking home a bag of Northwest cherries will find that dessert quality they’re seeking.

The 2021 Rainier crop is off to a great start, with demand especially high for the super-sweet variety. Winds produce a particular challenge for yellow cherry growers, but at this point we are still expecting to pick and ship a little over 2 million 15-pound boxes this season.

The chart below gives a 2 year overview of the Pacific coast cherry crop, as well as the Northwest’s Round 3 estimate projected as a crop curve. (Click to enlarge) As evidenced by the dark red line of 2021’s actual shipments, the pace of harvest has slowed since the date of estimate, but the general distribution of volume continues to track along with the estimate. With a slower start, that will also push a few more cherry boxes into July’s total.

While most of the Northwest cherry promotions are scheduled to ramp up or launch next week, promoting cherries has become a year-round affair with lots of important windows and messages. Very early season messaging helps to maintain momentum at the shelf during harvest overlap along the Pacific coast. The pandemic has increased everyone’s focus on supply chains, and along with shifts towards more plant-based meals, make news stories like this one in the Seattle Times more popular with general readers. Driving more awareness of Northwest availability is key in this window to encourage engagement from light and super users alike, and a pair of just-launched MAT and press releases will help increase ground level growth. In the first day since launch, our press release has already been republished across 119 news sites. 

Health is an important concern for many of us, and research shows cherry buyers are likely to factor in their health benefits in the purchase decision. More will be shared in coming updates on the NW Cherries $1-million health marketing program for this season. But for some, cherries are just about that great flavor during summertime. Targeting affective decision opportunities like those are features like these in Southern Living and Saveur.

Currently, the NW Cherry Growers have seasonal milestone-focused ads running on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, as well as Google, Spotify and a variety of podcasts. These ads will be supplemented by a concentrated health push over the next few weeks, driven by partnerships with major publishers and over 48 popular influencers.

The NW Cherries & Dotdash partnership launched this week as well. This network aligns with the most used recipe sites to link cherry-featuring recipes, such as our Quick Pickled Cherries or Cherry Yogurt Popsicles, directly with a consumer’s online grocery cart via a participating retailer. This integrative program has already reached 9.4k consumers in the first two days, and will grow throughout our season into an audience in the low millions.

Thankfully, the quality of Northwest cherries this year should over deliver on quality and encourage repeat purchases. While this is true for all shoppers, it’s key to remember that Light and Medium shoppers, who account for 6 out of 7 buyers and 2 out of 3 cherry dollars, often don’t make their first purchase until they notice the big displays surrounding the 4th of July. Gaining their attention early will be critical to increasing overall summer cherry performance.