TJ MULLINAX

As the Northwest cherry season draws closer, for the first time in six or seven years I am thinking that the 2013 harvest has the potential to begin during the first days of June. If you’ve ever seen the movie Money Ball, you know the premise of determining a “winning” recipe in the preseason is about paying attention to the statistics and historical performance of a given player or, in our case, a given crop.

Coming into this season, the statistics told us that our cumulative growing degree-day units were further ahead than in the last several years. That being said, our production profile has changed significantly since the 2005–2007 seasons, so the month of July will see significant volume regardless of an early start. We should expect to harvest more cherries in July than in June, and, as a result, our promotion timing will begin in mid-June and extend through mid-August.

Can we win given this particular scenario? In short, yes. Having ample supplies leading up to the Fourth of July holiday has proven to be a positive in previous years. This year, the Fourth of July falls on a Thursday, which is very positive for the growers.

A Thursday holiday allows ads to break on the previous Wednesday or Sunday and allows our dedicated consumer base to stock up on cherries coming into the holiday. Then, as the party finishes up on the Fourth, consumers have the opportunity to go back to the store and load up on cherries for the following weekend.

Exports

Northwest Cherry Growers will run promotion programs in 18 countries this ­summer, including the United States, Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, France, ­Belgium, Australia, Russia, Brazil, China/Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore. Despite federal budget constraints, we have applied for and received funding for our five-state production region of just over $1.3 million. With matching grower dollars, we will spend 65 percent of our promotion budget in the export ­markets in 2013.

Marketing strategies for the export markets continue to focus on creating a regional brand identity, the “Diamond of Fruit,” by associating Northwest cherries with the healthy, clean, and environmentally sound area of the Pacific Northwest.

In this business, we occasionally need to step back and take stock of the positives that come with a season. Last year, the industry’s export business saw unprecedented growth, and several key markets performed at levels beyond all industry expectations. We saw China increase its volume by over a million boxes to 2.2 million 20-pound equivalent boxes this year. We saw over 655,000 boxes go into Korea, an increase of over 87 percent from the previous year’s record. We saw record shipments to Australia of 434,000 boxes, up 31 percent from last year’s record shipments. On the whole, our export volume increased to 8 million boxes shipped, from the 2011 record shipments of 5.7 million boxes. Never before has the industry seen a year-over-year increase of more than 40 percent in export shipments in consecutive record years.

Health benefits

There will be strong consumer publicity around the health benefits of our cherries both domestically and internationally this year. For the first time, a study funded by the Northwest Cherry Growers has been published in the American Society for Nutrition’s Journal of Nutrition. We have been working with Dr. Darshan Kelley of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Western Human Nutrition Research Center at the University of California, Davis. Dr. Kelley’s paper titled “Sweet Bing Cherries Lower Circulating ­Concentrations of Markers for Chronic Inflammatory Diseases in Healthy Humans” provides a great deal of insight into the health benefits of sweet cherries. In short,

Dr. Kelley’s study found that eating cherries selectively reduced several biomarkers associated with inflammatory diseases. As a result, we will be using a variety of media (social, print, and radio) to highlight  the fact that cherries truly are “superfruit.” Consumers are increasingly reaching for functional foods, and cherries are chief among them. Cherries are chock-full of anthocyanins, a group of compounds shown to have particular importance in terms of reducing cancer risk, preventing cardiovascular disease, enhancing anti-inflammatory response, and protecting cells involved in neurological function. They’re also fat-free, high in fiber, a good source of potassium, and are a low-glycemic food. Our sweet ­cherries are one of the few plant sources of melatonin.

Yes, there are bound to be challenges over the next several months. We hope for a reasonable spread in the production districts, and we hope that rains we saw last year stay in the past. But for today, it is hard not to be excited about the potential for a ­successful 2013 harvest.