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As part of his consumer quality research, Dr. Matt Whiting will investigate the potential for grouping cherry varieties by flavor in the marketplace. The concept, being used by apple growers in Switzerland, was recently highlighted at the International Fruit Tree Association’s annual meeting in Tasmania. (See the article "Sustainable Marketing" in the May 1, 2007, Good Fruit Grower.) Whiting is intrigued by the concept and believes it has potential for sweet cherries.

In the past, the two dominant varieties displayed by retailers were the dark, sweet Bing and the blushed Rainier, he said. "Now, we have six major varieties that are promoted in the dark, sweet category, ranging from the early Chelan, Brooks, and Tulare to the midseason Tieton, Attika and Lapins, to the later season Skeena and Sweetheart. And there are other blush varieties than just Rainier."

When consumers go back to the market two weeks later to again purchase cherries, the fruit on display is likely a different variety and perhaps even a different genotype, Whiting explained. "But the varieties are all marketed in the same way. I think that is a big problem."

He doubts that cherries will ever command enough shelf space to display four or five varieties. But if consumers have distinct flavor preferences for cherries—something that should be better understood after the sensory panels and consumer perception research—varieties could be categorized or classified into flavor groups, like low acid or high sugar.

"Can people perceive distinct flavor groups in sweet cherries?" he asked. "If they can, then industry could market varieties in a way that lends to a more consistent eating experience and product."