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Organic cherries remain elusive

As difficult as it is to grow cherries, it’s even tougher to grow them organically.

Cherry grower-shippers say consumer demand is growing every year, but most of them are simply unable to supply that demand.

According to the Washington State Fruit Commission, Yakima, BB #:162666 Northwest growers shipped 661,000 boxes of organic dark sweet cherries and 87,000 boxes of organic rainiers.

James Michael, vice president of marketing for North America for the commission, said organic cherry volume increased 26 percent from 2017 to 2018 and represent 3 percent of the northwest crop.

Brianna Shales, communications manager for Stemilt Growers, LLC, Wenatchee, WA, BB #:113654 said Stemilt is one of the largest organic cherry shippers, and the company would like to be larger.
“We’re big but still just about 10 percent,” she said. “They’re just really hard to grow.”

Mike Preacher, director of marketing and customer relations for Domex Superfresh Growers, LLC, Yakima, WA, BB #:113721 said his company is optimistic about organic cherries.

“I think we’ll continue to see interest in organic cherries,” he said. “We’re relatively less than apples and pears. It’s 2-5 percent for us depending on the year. We have retailers who want organic either as the primary or secondary item.”

Mac Riggan, marketing director for Chelan Fresh Marketing, Chelan, WA, BB #:342363 said the company always grows and packs organic cherries but the market is limited.

“They’re very hard to grow and control the fungus,” he said. “It’s not like growing organic apples.”

He also said price points at retail are so high they turn off many consumers.

“Organic prices get really high at retail, like $9.99 a pound,” he said. “It’s tough.”

Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for Sage Fruit Co., Yakima, WA, BB #:163180 said his company handles very little organic cherries.

“While there is some demand, we haven’t seen as rapid increase in demand as we have on apples and pears,” he said.

This is an excerpt from the most recent Produce Blueprints quarterly journal. Click here to read the full version.


Greg Johnson is Director of Media Development for Blue Book Services