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Chelan Fresh offers tips for cherry sales

Last year, cherries in the Northwest had a record year, with just under 27 million boxes shipped. And while Mac Riggan, director of marketing for Chelan Fresh in Chelan, WA, said 2018 won’t hit that number, there will still be plenty of quality cherries available.

“I’m anticipating a good crop this year because I think after last year’s record crop there was a lot of pruning,” Riggan said. “And probably the pendulum’s going to swing a little toward the trees being over-pruned, which could produce less fruit per tree, but bigger fruit and better quality. I still think as an industry we’re going to have plenty of fruit. We’re anticipating 22 million boxes, which is still the third-largest crop on record, so there’s going to be plenty of cherries for retailers, plenty to enjoy.”

Riggan said Chelan Fresh will ship about 5 million boxes of dark, sweet and Rainier cherries, which is a little less than last year. Shipping will start June 15 and run through the first full week of August, until around Aug. 10-12. The peak of the season will take place in July, starting around July 8 and going until July 25.

“When you have good-quality fruit and good fruit size, it makes a real difference because consumers rip them through the stores, and it just keeps everything fresh and moving,” Riggan said. “Getting a good start is key. There’s always a temptation to try and get the highest price you can early on, and that’s human nature, and that’s the way things are. I don’t fault our industry for that, but you have to generate momentum.”

Other keys to a good year are quality and stable pricing. The industry will go a long way, he said, if it sets prices that are steady and quickly profitable for growers and retailers. If consumers buy cherries at a certain price one week, then that price falls drastically the following week, future sales can be affected, because shoppers may hold off buying cherries, waiting for a sale price.

“When that price stability comes out, no matter what it is, it seems buyers focus a lot more on making sure they have a lot of cherries in the store,” Riggan said.

He also suggests retailers set up big displays because consumers buy what’s on display.

“So the more they display up front in the department, and display big, the more they are going to sell,” Riggan said. “It’s all about real estate in the produce department. That old saying, ‘location, location, location,’ you want to be up front where you capture people’s dollars first.”

He also suggests cross merchandising with whipped creams, and ingredients used to make pies. Yogurt and granola are other items with which to pair cherries.

Cherries are seasonal and offer promotional opportunities, according to Riggan.

“Cherries are truly one of the very few seasonal items left in the store,” he said. “All of the berries are pretty much year-round now but cherries are truly seasonal. And with California having a much smaller crop than last year, I think there’s going to be a lot of pent-up demand, but sometimes people can lose sight of the fact there’s cherries in the store.”

The thing is, he noted, people are busy, so retailers shouldn’t take for granted that everyone, even cherry lovers, has cherries on their shopping list. “You really need to drive that awareness with store signage, IRCs and your flyers and on the website and at the store level,” he said.

Riggan is also a fan of in-store radio, which he said is a great way to capture the attention of shoppers in the store.

Finally, he recommends that produce mangers work with their shipping partners to create simple demos where a fresh cherry in a cup is offered for free.

“Demos are a huge way to attract new people into the category and to possibly drive extra sales to people who already buy cherries, maybe they’ll buy two bags instead of one,” Riggan said. “Demos are big, they’re expensive but they’re effective.”