Cherry growers and marketers and their retail grocery partners are champing at the bit to kick off a robust 2023 season, following a very light 2022 crop. So far, all indications are they’ll get their wish. 

Chuck Sinks, president of sales and marketing for Sage Fruit Co., Yakima, Wash., expects a strong bounce-back this year.

“The 2022 cherry season was tough — we were hit from all angles,” Sinks said. “We faced a relatively mild winter last year, but cooler temperatures continued late into the spring and, unfortunately, it was not as warm as we would ideally like.”

During early bloom in ’22, the Northwest industry was hit with about a week of cold, wet weather that slowed pollination in a few districts and delayed additional bloom in other districts, he added. 

As a result, harvest was later than anticipated. The same cold spell also caused frost damage to numerous growing regions. In turn, the crop was much smaller than growers have seen in recent years.

That makes the promise of a new year and a new crop more exciting than ever, Sinks said.

“We expect that we’ll be back in full force in 2023, as long as Mother Nature cooperates. We’re planning for a robust crop and are excited about the possibilities that the 2023 crop should bring.”

For one, volumes should be up significantly this year, he added, and not just because of better weather. Sage has new growers on board and a new warehouse to get fruit to retailers quicker than ever.

“We should have a record crop for Sage Fruit,” Sinks said.

sage cherry retail stand displaysSource: Sage Fruit Co.


A return to normal 

The 2022 crop was down 50% or more in volumes compared to 2021, said Brianna Shales, marketing director for Wenatchee, Wash.-based Stemilt Growers. 

close-up of cherries growing amongst green leavesSource: Stemilt Growers

“We are excited about the crop potential to return to normal volumes,” she said. “Last year was a very short crop which led to an imbalance of supply and demand. We’re hopeful for less erratic spring weather so that we can have a high-quality and promotable crop for summer’s top dollar driver in the produce category.”

When it comes to navigating the short, fast and furious domestic cherry season, communication between suppliers and their retail partners is crucial, Shales said.

“We want to make promotion plans with our partner retailers to help them drive impulse sales with cherries.”

That said, you have to be nimble, Shales added, since weather can influence how well shippers are able to stick to the plans. 

“Retailers that can maneuver with the crop will have the most success in cherry category results.”

stemilt cherries in packagingSource: Stemilt Growers

Stemilt will continue to closely monitor evolving cherry packaging trends this season, Shales said. Consumer packs like Top Seal, for instance, continue to gain traction, though bags are still the uncontested champ because they’re priced by the pound.

Top Seal is similar to a clamshell but has a plastic film instead of a hinged plastic lid.

“It’s a great package for fixed-weight sales of cherries and is very automated on our packing lines,” she said.

Stemilt especially likes to encourage Top Seal to make specialty/premium cherries stand out – organics or Skylar Raes, for instance.

Of course, bags are still the predominant way cherries are sold at retail because they help retailers sell cherries by the pound.