With California's cherry season gearing up, the industry is looking forward to bouncing back from last year's small volumes with a record-breaking crop and increased production of an up-and-coming variety - Coral.
Brianna Shales, communications manager at Stimelt Growers, comments: "This season is going to rebound nicely from last season. We had, in California last year, a very small crop and this year looks to be a record crop, so it's a completely different story."
Breaking down the Golden State's last few fluctuating seasons, Nick Lucich, the head of produce sales and marketing at Delta Packing Co. of Lodi, says: "2017 was a record year for us with 9.5 million [cartons] roughly. In 2018, we went way down to just over 5 million, and then this year, we're looking at 10-plus million potentially."
Shales notes that the bulk of volume from California should be available between around May 20 and June 15. Yet, while this timing is a little delayed compared to typical years, she doesn't predict the later start time will substantially affect the northern states' seasons.
California's supply will likely be starting to wind down as Washington State starts to ramp up, she adds.
She explains: "There will be some overlap, but it'll be coming at a time of year where retailers have likely come off of either one or two cherry promotions and will be able to continue filling the shelves with cherries."
Meanwhile, Lucich points out the extra effort that managing such high season volumes might take.
"I would say the biggest challenge this year is just the amount of fruit the trees have set, and the growers needing to farm it correctly to size it for the market...the next challenge with a big crop is to have enough capacity to pack all the cherries," he says.
"If the growers are able to size their cherries to a marketable size, then the pressure is put on every packing facility in the state...If the packing houses can pack them all, then the challenge is on the marketing team to put it at a price that retailers can move."
Still, he remains optimistic about how the state can accomplish such ambitious tasks. "I think one advantage California has is that there's not a lot of produce that competes with the cherry during the California cherry market.
"The other advantage is that we've seen what Washington can do after California's crops - they've successfully marketed and moved 20-plus million boxes out of their state after California, so if Washington can move that much after California's season, if the retail world can move that much, they can take that much. It just has to be at the right level," he states.
When it comes to varieties that are being successfully retailed, both company representatives emphasize that Coral cherries are gaining traction.
"Coral is one of the big varieties coming out of California...So that's one that we're seeing more volume of than in years past," Shales comments.
Shedding light on the reasons behind this trend, Lucich says that the Coral has a more "consistent" year-to-year set than the popular Bing variety.
"It doesn't require as much winter chill or dormancy, so in these warm winters we've been having, it still sets a crop," he says. "It's an earlier-timing cherry, so it captures a little bit better of a market...it has a lot of benefits. I think in the near future that'll be the biggest variety coming out of California."
Looking back to general expectations for this year's cherry season, Shales concludes: "We're really excited to get it going - it's super promising and it should be beneficial to both the growers and the retailers worldwide."