WENATCHEE — Not only is this season’s cherry crop huge, but the individual cherries you pop in your mouth are larger, juicier and sweeter, too. Think “jumbo,” say growers.
“Cherries from the Pacific Northwest are sizing larger than years past,” said Steve Lutz, vice president of marketing for Wenatchee-based Columbia Marketing International (CMI), one of the state’s largest fruit growers and shippers. “And sugar levels are at the top of the charts.”
The bulk of the season’s dark sweet cherries are running one to two sizes larger than normal, Lutz said. That’s because spring weather ideal for cherries and a nicely spread tree bloom that gave cherries room to grow have combined this year, he said, “to produce exceptional fruit.”
The bigger, sweeter cherries are part of an estimated Northwest crop of 22 million boxes, which could be the region’s second-largest crop behind 2012’s record harvest of 23 million boxes.
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This season, consumers will see more cherries in the 9.5- to 9-row diameters, Lutz said. Traditionally, growers size cherries by the number of individual cherries that line up in a cherry box — small cherries will have 13 or so in a row, larger cherries will have 8.5 or 9 in a row.
The sizing count is a throwback to shipping methods of the 1930s, Lutz said.
Cherries plucked this season are also placing high on the Brix sweetness scale, which measures the amount of sucrose in liquids, including the juice of squashed cherries.
On the Brix scale, an average sugar content for dessert cherries would be about a 10 with a high sugar level at about 14 and higher, CMI marketing specialist Katharine Grove said.
So far, much of this year’s crop has measured 17-20, with production from some orchards pushing higher.
Also boosting demand for Northwest cherries is California’s reduced crop because of drought and other weather worries.
The result is that fruit lovers haven’t seen early cherries on the grocery shelves, Lutz said. Right now, he said, “consumers are hungry for cherries.”
To market the prime crop, CMI has declared July as “Jumbo Cherry Month” and designed retail displays to grab the eye and taste buds of grocery shoppers as they move around the store.
“Cherries are a high-impulse purchase,” Lutz said. “The more we can put fruit in front of the shopper, the more hungry they’ll be for cherries.”
He added, “We just need to remind them that cherries are in season and that this is one of the best seasons yet.”