Overview of cherries in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on March 11, 2022.
Stemilt Growers is one of the leading US companies growing, packaging and shipping fruit. It is located in Wenatchee, WA, and was set up in 1964 by the Mathison family, which has been growing fruit for over a century. Production is focused on cherries, peaches, apples and pears. The company will take part in the International Cherry Symposium (May 2nd-6th, 2022).
“We have two main production areas – we own and/or manage around 2000 acres (approx. 800 hectares) in California, plus there are external growers providing around 10,000 tons a year. In Washington, we own and/or manage around 3500 acres (approx. 1400 hectares) with a wide grower base supplying 35-38,000 tons a year in total,” explains Semilt manager Todd George.
But are the exorbitant costs of the agricultural segment only affecting Italy? “We are experiencing significant inflation in the US as well, as we ended the 2021 fiscal year with an inflation rate of 7%, which is still growing. This is putting pressure on all the elements part of our activity, including salaries, gas/utilities, transport and all the material necessary for cultivation and packaging operations. We are hoping the future prices of our products will help make up for these higher costs, but this usually takes a longer time than expected, so we are the ones who have to bear the costs for the time being while the market adapts more slowly.”
Stemilt has always been a leader when it comes to both pre- and post-harvesting innovations for cherries. “We were among the first in the state of Washington to place portable hydro-coolers in the orchards to reduce the heat at the time of harvesting. In addition, we helped the pioneers of end-of-season varieties and high-altitude orchards to extend the commercial campaign.”
Stemilt tries to harvest cherries when they reach an excellent texture and dry matter content and to assess each incoming batch to guarantee a high quality.
As for the next season, the manager says that “the cherry harvest looks promising. There are currently many varieties in full bloom in California and we are expecting to package cherries between the third week of April and early June. It is still early here in Washington, but there is the potential for a good harvest starting from early June and until late August. Stemilt owns, manages and negotiates with external growers around 2200 hectares in total in the California and Washington state regions.”
“As for the harvested produce, we have chosen bags but, over the past 5 years, we have also invested a lot on ‘peel and re-seal’ fixed-weight punnets. We are also leaders in the management of the procurement chain to help reduce the days between harvesting and consumption and guarantee a more positive sensorial experience to consumers.”
Around 75% of the production is commercialized in North America, mainly through the US big retail chain. 25% is exported to Korea, Australia, Taiwan and Vietnam as well as to many other Asian destinations.
“As a company, we should be put more care and attention into the harvesting of cherries with a better flavor and quality. Investing on measures to harvest cherries when fully ripe is one of the first steps to push consumers to repurchase. Changing the cold chain is also critical – chilling cherries quickly, handling them correctly and chilling them again before final shipping is imperative.”
“Lastly, packaging ‘communicates’ and showcases the products. It must respect the environment in order to guarantee a growth in sales in the future as well.”
The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.
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