Want to add some excitement to your produce department this summer – for you and your customers? Then think cherries.

Cherries are one of the few remaining seasonal items, grower-shippers point out. That means a sense of anticipation has been building among shoppers since last year, making cherries attractive to promote when volume is available.

“They’re one of the largest dollar (stock-keeping units) in the produce department in summer, if not the largest,” said Roger Pepperl, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers, which grows cherries in Washington and California. “And they attract a lot of higher-income people.”

Pepperl estimated that 5%-15% of produce dollars can come from cherries during the summer.

“Retailers really need them to make their numbers,” he said.

Cherries should be in good supply this season, and quality should be good, but check before you promote, Pepperl warned. Cherry picking will get started later this year than last.

It would be a “big tragedy” to plan promotions based on last year’s schedule, he said.

2018 information “could be somewhat useless,” Pepperl said.


Late start

California cherries, the first domestic product to reach supermarkets each season, typically start in late April but were delayed until May this year because of a late spring, Pepperl said.

Ideal loading time for California fruit will be from May 20 to June 20, he said.

Oregon should start in late June and continue for several weeks, and Washington, which usually starts in early June, won’t get underway until mid-June.

Pepperl predicted that volume should be good in early June and lighter in late June, followed by a heavy July, steady August and lighter supplies in September.

Brooks and tulare cherries from California will be the first to hit the stores.

Coral, an increasingly popular variety, should follow tulares in mid-May, then bings will be available from the end of May until mid-June.

Rainiers should ship out of California from the last week of May until June 15 and pick up in late June out of Washington and run through July.

Chelans should start in Washington by mid-June this year, followed by bings at the end of June.

Chelans and corals should be big for the Fourth of July, Pepperl said.

Canada has some late sweet cherries from British Columbia starting in July and shipping as late as September. Skeena, Sweetheart, Satin, Staccato, Sovereign and Sentennial are common Canadian varieties.


Placement and size of displays

Cherry suppliers are eager to share suggestions that might help their customers sell more.

All agree that a large, eye-catching display at the front of the produce department is a great way to attract attention – and sales.

Sure, every commodity would like that spot, but Pepperl says cherries really deserve it.

“With cherries, you can actually demand it and get it because you’re going to get the highest dollar return in that department per square foot of any item,” he said. “In late June and early July, they better be front and center.”

Jon Bailey, category manager for cherries for Vancouver, British Columbia-based The Oppenheimer Group, said a prime spot puts cherries “in (your shoppers’) face as soon as they walk in,” creating excitement and putting shoppers in a cherry frame of mind.

Cherries are not always inexpensive, so catching your consumers’ eye right when they enter the store – before they spend any money – can prompt a quick purchase, said Mac Riggan, director of marketing for Chelan Fresh, Chelan, Wash.

The size of your cherry display “should match the value proposition,” Riggan added.

If prices are especially low, go with a large display, but when they’re significantly higher, keep your display fairly tight. Otherwise you could end up with shrink.

In addition, it may be worthwhile to allocate extra seasonal manpower to keep cherry displays fresh, Riggan said.


Packaging and digital promotion

To bring in additional sales, order some smaller pack styles – perhaps a 1-pound clamshell – for shoppers who may not want to buy a 2.25-pound pouch bag, Bailey advised.

And conduct sampling by putting out a bowl of cherries so shoppers can discover the delicious taste for themselves, he said.

Promote locally grown cherries and “put a face on the fruit” by providing background on growers both at point of sale and on social media, Bailey added.

Give shoppers advance notice – perhaps two weeks ahead of time – that cherries are on their way, Pepperl recommended.

“With all the digital formats we have today, why wouldn’t you be calling that out?” he asked.

And let your customers know when you’re merchandising large, top-quality cherries.

“If you’re carrying the best stuff, you want to make sure you tell the customer,” Pepperl said.

He also recommended including organic product in displays, saying that segment is a big part of the cherry business.

Pepperl also encouraged retailers to consider the placement of grapes relative to cherries.

 “They cannibalize each other,” he said.


Get it while you can

Highlight cherries’ seasonality, since they won’t be around forever, said Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for Sage Fruit,Yakima, Wash.

“It’s a relatively short season,” Sinks said. “Encourage consumers to purchase now and not to wait too long before they’re gone.”

Finally, set up supplemental displays away from your main cherry display, advised George Harter, vice president of marketing for CMI Orchards, Wenatchee. And keep displays stocked and rotated throughout the day, since they probably won’t be refrigerated.


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