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"Hang on tight and let her rip," is how West Mathison describes organic cherry marketing. "We get excited about organic marketing because it’s crazy," the president of Stemilt Growers, Inc., Wenatchee, Washington, said during the annual Cherry Institute meeting in Yakima, Washington. "You’ve got to be a little insane to accept the volatility that you’re going to face when you start to take organic cherries to market."

When reviewing the 2007 daily Washington cherry shipments, organic shipments look like a "pimple" compared to conventional shipments, Mathison noted. The entire shipping season for organic cherries last year was 68 days, and for less than half of those days, the Northwest shipped less than a full truckload of organic cherries.

Growers must remember that there are still limited places that sell organic cherries, he said. Traditional retailers cannot just start selling organics if they don’t have the distribution channel, space in the store, and trained cash register clerks. "You can’t pick up the phone and sell organic cherries with much success."

Hype

Mathison summed up the organic cherry market as being volatile and small, with demand for cherries on the spot market very limited. "It’s a lot of hype for a few boxes."

But there is market opportunity, and the future is promising, he believes.

Volume is growing, which will bring stability and continuity, and helps marketers establish solid programs. Organic cherry shipments in 2007 represented 1.7 percent of all Washington cherry shipments, Mathison said. California will soon have more organic cherries, which will help the Northwest secure more shelf space and drive consumption, he ­predicted.

Mathison believes that the growing volume of organic apples will help organic cherries in the marketplace by creating shelf space and providing product when organic apple supplies dwindle in early summer.