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West Coast cherry producers found common ground during an initial meeting to see if growers from the Pacific Northwest and California could collaborate on specific issues and work closer together.

The meeting, held in March in Portland, Oregon, brought together about a dozen sweet cherry growers and shippers from California, Oregon, and Washington, as well as staff from groups promoting California and Northwest cherries. The meeting was moderated by James Christie and Mike Rucier from the consulting firm Bryant Christie, Inc.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture had suggested that a strategic planning meeting be held among the nation’s sweet cherry producers to explore ways to optimize foreign market access and promotion programs of the groups.

“It was the first time that California and the Northwest groups were really ready to talk about projects and synergy,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of the Northwest Cherry Growers and Washington State Fruit Commission.

Norm Gutzwiler, cherry producer from Wenatchee, said the meeting was a “great step forward” in identifying areas where the two regions can work together.

Issues and projects identified for potential collaboration include joint promotions in some foreign markets, gathering intelligence and research on Chinese cherry production and marketing plans, nutrition and health research, jointly supporting a booth at an international fruit and vegetable trade fair, and developing retailer best practice guidelines for cherry merchandising.

Single message

It was agreed that in several foreign markets, such as Japan and Korea, a joint message of “USA cherries” and sharing point-of-sale materials that promote the single USA message has potential to better maximize grower dollars. Joint federal funding requests could also help address common market access problems.

Fruit Logistica

Another area ripe for collaboration is in Europe at the Fruit Logistica trade show held in Germany.

“Fruit Logistica is becoming the ‘European’ Produce Marketing Association convention, with many Asian buyers coming to the show,” Thurlby said. “If both cherry groups see value in having a presence there, it could be that California and the Northwest share a ‘USA cherry’ booth at the show.”

Both groups were also interested in working together to gather data on China’s sweet cherry production and marketing plans to help evaluate potential market implications from their cherries.

History of cooperation

Jim Culbertson of the California Cherry Advisory Board noted that California and the Pacific Northwest have worked together on several issues in the past. “For the most part, we’ve been talking and cooperating together. But the strategic meeting helped to formalize that.”

He believes the Portland meeting could be an annual or semi-annual event. “We see it as an opportunity to collectively focus on the perils and challenges of the cherry industry,” Culbertson said.

Nutrition

An area where he anticipates further collaboration is health and nutrition research. Cherry producers from all three states agreed that a simple, single message is needed to help communicate the health and nutritional benefits of cherries.

Culbertson said that the California cherry board is forming a new committee to work on nutrition and health. He added that forming a joint Northwest and California committee to establish research priorities was discussed.

He agreed that there may be room for more collaboration in the area of foreign promotion between the regions. “We do share with the Northwest an agency for representation in Australia. We may look to do more of that. Generally, in the foreign market, there is not a lot of crossover between the two regions, and promotions are applied in more of a ‘USA cherry’ attitude.”