U.S. Northwest cherry crop weathers the heat
By Northwest Cherry Growers
Growers are amazingly resourceful, but Mother Nature is always in charge. And she has certainly continued to force changes to the cherry crop’s volume dynamics this season.
When we began these reports back in early June, we were reporting an expected delay in daily shipment volume increases due to the cooler-than-typical weather in May. As we detailed in this update on Wednesday, this past week has seen the other side of the coin, with most growing regions nearing or surpassing their all-time record high temperatures.
Aside from the effects on people and the cherries, such excessive heat can delay fruit development just as much as cooler weather. The Growing Degree Day charts we use in our pre-season tracking include both a minimum temperature, which a tree requires to become active, as well as a maximum temperature, at which point most cherry trees will shut down until the orchard temperatures cool.
With that in mind, the forecasted duration of this heat wave encouraged growers who were close to harvest to begin picking before their fruit was subjected to the heat. Such an upward shift in volume will have an eventual impact on the overall daily potential curve, but should not affect promotional opportunities or timing.
So while some more fruit arrived at the optical sorters before we would have otherwise expected, we also have to look at what happened to the fruit that remained in the orchards. To be clear, the Northwest did lose some cherries due to the extreme heat. Cherries on the perimeter of the trees were more greatly impacted than fruit within the canopies. Thankfully, many growers were able to mitigate the worst of the heat with over-orchard netting and under-canopy sprinklers and thus were able to save much of their fruit. And at this point, we’ve seen no effects on green or developing cherries.
So while this was certainly a new thing to experience as an industry, we come out of the other side with a little bit less fruit but a maintained momentum and our eyes on the horizon.
Even with the spike of fruit intake before the heat by most warehouses, June volume still fell well under the Round 3 forecast due to a list of weather delays. With close to 8.4 million boxes, the preliminary June 2021 total was just under 2 million boxes shy (18%) of the last pre-crop estimate. However, it’s important to keep in mind just how big of a difference a few days can make in this stage of the Northwest season. While the first week of June saw an average of 31,000 boxes a day, the Northwest has averaged an additional half-million additional boxes shipped per day (530,000) for the last week of the month.
It’s obvious that our preseason estimate of 22.4 million boxes couldn’t take into account a record-smashing heat wave. However, the reports that we are hearing from all corners of the industry are that there is still a strong, promotable crop out there on the trees. Promotions should be maintained into August as planned. The cherries in many of our higher elevation and northern latitude orchards are still green and growing well.
While most of our regional representatives have been sending in reports of shelves largely filled with Northwest fruit, there is still some late California fruit to be found in markets around the US. California’s volume increased 283% from last year, and 231% over the three year average. This lingering California fruit has delayed the transition into Northwest cherries and caused perhaps more of an issue for Northwest growers than the weather.
Rainiers are already treated with the most tender care of all cherry varieties, and those orchards were certainly attended to during the heat wave. The good news is, a little over 1.4 million 15-pound boxes have already been picked and shipped this season. The bad news is, it appears that the yellow cherries nearing the point of harvest are reportedly some of the most impacted by the excessive heat. Determining any damage of this multi-state heatwave on dozens of varieties is a challenging and nebulous task. However, at this point, we understand that there are certainly still yellow cherries available for National Rainier Cherry Day ads on the 11th of July and beyond.
NW Cherries Kick-off First Time Promotions in India
Thankfully, the weather wasn’t the only thing heating up last week. Sweet cherry promotions began in full, and will only continue to ramp up in volume and magnitude as the season rolls on. Digital and in-store retail activities are supported by a collection of consumer marketing programs dedicated to boosting awareness of sweet cherry health benefits while echoing our seasonal call-to-action.
To that end, a nod from one of the nation’s most popular magazines can’t hurt. The NW Cherry Growers are thrilled to announce that fresh, sweet Northwest cherries have won the Good Housekeeping 2021 Healthy Snack Award! Cherries are featured in the July/August issue of Good Housekeeping which began hitting shelves as of June 29th. You can view the online article here.
Through a curated content partnership with Hearst Media Group, Northwest Cherry Growers released homepage takeovers this week on Women’s Health, Men’s Health, Prevention and Good Housekeeping. Promotions run through the July 4th holiday. This is in addition to the unique articles and advertising focus across their network as well.
The 2021 season’s second MAT release, a pre-written article from Northwest Cherry Growers promoting the many health benefits of cherries went live in mid-June and continues to garner pickup. So far the article has earned placements in the 10 largest DMA’s in the U.S.: NYC, LA, Chicago, Philadelphia, Dallas – Ft. Worth, San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose, Washington, DC., Houston, Boston, and Atlanta, among the more than 900 print and online placements thus far.
We’ve also secured ads in a variety of top mainstream consumer podcasts and networks, including Spotify (which began running this week) and The New York Times Network, featuring popular shows such as The Daily, This American Life and Serial. These health messages and seasonal call-out ads will continue through end of July. Other podcast partnerships continue to launch as well, such as Happier with Gretchen Rubin and Let It Out with Katie Dalebout.
Currently, the NW Cherry Growers also have seasonal milestone-focused ads running on Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest, as well as Google and Spotify. These ads will be supplemented by a concentrated health push over the next few weeks, including programs driven by partnerships with major publishers and over 48 popular influencers.
Fresh sweet cherry promotions are in the peak of the season! Stay tuned each week for an inside look at how NW Cherries is rolling out nationwide, sweet cherry health promotions to drive consumer demand for sweet cherries!