China surpasses Canada as U.S. Northwest's leading cherry export market
In March, the head of industry association Northwest Cherry Growers said conversation production estimates were in the typical region of 20 million 20-pound boxes.
However, so far a record 26 million boxes have been shipped, with another 400,000 or so remaining, according to the organization's international marketing director Keith Hu.
"We knew it would be bigger, but we weren't sure how much bigger," he told Fresh Fruit Portal.
He attributed the high production levels both to good fruit set across the varieties and a lack of adverse weather.
Exports to China had only been slightly behind those sent to Canada over the past couple of seasons, but this year Hu said the industry "blew the door wide open".
The Northwest cherry industry's exports represent 36% of the crop, and this year about 12% of production was shipped to China compared to a little over 8% for Canada.
Hu said while Canada has remained more or less stable over the years, China has been growing rapidly.
"This is good news for us for sure," he said.
"That was a goal they set for me when they hired me about 10 years ago - to open up the Chinese and South Korean markets. I always knew there was potential for China to surpass Canada, it was just a matter of when it would happen."
He also explained the feat was made possible this year thanks largely to growth from second-tier cities.
"We have done pretty well in the first-tier cities, and now we are seeing the results from some of the key second-tier cities, so I think that’s where the volume came from," he said.
In addition, he highlighted China Eastern Airlines flew 50 Boeing 777 Freighters from Seattle to China during the season, providing plentiful options to shippers.
He added around 95% of volumes were sent to China via air freight.
China's new position as the leading market is a very positive development, according to Hu, as the country would play a big role in the future as the Northwest's production levels increase.
"As the crop continues to grow and we definitely need China, Canada and Korea to continue to grow to absorb these large crops," he said.
The association ran promotions for its cherries in China from mid-June through mid-August.