Mac Riggan and Tim Evans of Chelan Fresh Discuss Washington Cherry Market
- by Jordan Okumura
CHELAN, WA - The Northwest cherry season is finally here, bringing ample opportunities for impulse purchases, higher rings at the register, and key promotional windows. With premium cherries top-of-mind, Chelan Fresh kicked off its program in Washington state this week, with supplies steadily increasing as the season “grows” on.
Mac Riggan, Director of Marketing, and Tim Evans, Sales Manager, join me in these early days of harvest to discuss some of the hallmarks of the season so far, and why the cherry category is such a high-impact element of the fresh produce department.
“Demand is already exceeding supply this year, making for another strong market,” Mac tells me. “We are anticipating a great finish to California’s season, and we will be coming in on the heels of that premium cherry quality and supply. Demand is going to stay strong and supply is going to be an allocation process.”
Mac adds that pricing is strong right now, matching demand, and is on an upward trend. Chelan Fresh will have big numbers to move in July this year, and as we get into the first week or two of August the team should continue to have good supplies.
“During the first two weeks of July, retailers need to be ready to promote with good, competitive pricing. Build big displays in prominent parts of the department and really capture that shopper early in their trip,” Mac says, adding that you want to grab consumers right when they walk in the door, and cherries are the perfect way to achieve this.
The June sales that happened last year will happen later this season, Tim shares, adding that the big dollars for retailers will come in July and August for the Northwest crop.
“We are starting with conventional Chelans right out of the gate, and will have good volumes around June 22nd to the 24th,” Tim shares, adding that the team will begin picking organic Chelans around the third week in June. “That is the time to start placing orders. From our current outlook on the season, we are well-positioned to offer exceptional quality and supplies throughout the summer months.”
And the outlook at Chelan is truly positive for the company, with recent news such as the Borton Fruit merger, and recent marketing agreement with Columbia Valley Fruit, resulting in the doubling of the organic treefruit program.
Chelan will get into a myriad of dark sweet varieties after Chelans. Rainiers will also be promoted front-and-center, as Chelan Fresh’s volumes are up over last year by 20 percent. Right around June 20th, the company’s exclusive Orondo Ruby variety will be available, and with volume up 30 percent over last year, the company will be able to respond to the incredible retail demand that has carried over from last season. But as Mac tells me, get on your orders now.
The Orondo Ruby’s characteristics include higher acidity and sugars than a Rainier or Bing, as well as firm, crisp, skin with fewer blemishes and less splitting, shown by a 28-day storage test—a winner for the cherry category.
To help retailers build cherry destinations in their produce departments this summer, Chelan Fresh is bringing its Cherry Display Merchandising Kit to the retail floor.
“With these kits, retailers can build secondary displays by check-outs or at the front of the produce department, to help catch the consumer eye and increase the square-footage of cherry display space,” Mac tells me.
Tim and Mac both note that this year Chelan Fresh will have a longer period to market cherries, as they are looking at about a 90 day window to fill orders. Harvest started about 20 days late this year, but timing has not seemed to ruffle Chelan Fresh’s feathers, even a little. The company’s season will run from now through the end of August and possibly into that first week of September.
“The past few years have been early and last year was record-early,” Tim says. “So, this is a huge swing back to more normal timing, if you can believe it.”
I am, of course, a consumer first, before I’m a trade news writer. And when it comes to cherries, I can never eat just one. I imagine I can speak for a whole demographic of shoppers who are willing to allot a share of their wallets to this season’s highly anticipated cherries. Stay tuned as we bring you more on the Pacific Northwest cherry season.