Export volumes increase as China comes on board for Canadian varieties

Big crop expected for Washington Chelan cherries

While there’s next to no Bing or Lapin cherries left in California, Washington Chelan cherries have started in the Tri-Cities area. “The outlook is fantastic and a big crop expected to come in this season,” said Rick Chong, Director of Sales for Sutherland S.A. Produce. 

Varieties invented in Canada 
Many of the most popular cherry varieties in the world were invented in Canada, thanks to the perfect location, he said. “We have just the right climate in the Okanagan Valley to produce world-class cherries.” Popular cherry varieties are Cristalina, Santina, Skeena, Lapins, Sweetheart, Sovereign, Staccato & Sentennial (all developed in Canada). He says these are all export quality varieties, with a beautiful appearance, good sugars, and a crunch. 

Canadian Lapin cherries

China seeks Canadian cherries 
China has developed an appreciation for Canada’s cherries over the last three years and Chong says the Chinese love Canadian cherries – a lucrative market. “We have a queue of people knocking on our doors. Export volumes continue to increase annually, as more Canadian cherry growers strengthen quality to meet China's stringent standards.” What’s needed he says is the industry to invest in new cherry orchards, infrastructure and modernize their facilities to meet the growing demand. 

Cherry prices were stable during most of the California deal. There weren’t any “big jumps” in market prices, however demand continued to outpace supply during the entire season. Sutherland expects to start off at similar pricing in Washington. “I think we’re already sold out before we've picked our first Washington or Canadian cherry/blueberry crops,” said Chong. “We’re seeing a great crop outlook, and expect to pack good volumes daily to meet export demand.” 

Washington Rainier cherries

Record crops expected this season 
Along with high demand over supply, Chong says Canada is forecasting a record crop this season, thanks to ideal weather. Sutherland is expecting to begin picking June 26, with export quality packing a few days later. “Global demand continues to exceed availability. That’s great news, with such strong export demand this allows us to choose to whom we want to build client relationships,” said Chong. “This means cutting out many of the tough negotiating domestic buyers many Canadian growers had to deal with in the past.” 

Expanding to new markets 
Getting access to new markets and stronger returns for all categories of cherries is a point of focus. “It’s a time consuming process, meeting protocols for each individual country,” he stated. “The Canadian government (CFIA) has their plate full, working hard on behalf of Canadian growers. We are in the process of gaining entry to Japan, hoping to gain access anytime, which typically purchases smaller sized cherries.” According to Chong, negotiations with Korea have also begun. These countries often pay more than 50 per cent more than domestic markets. Fruit not meeting basic firmness requirements is sold into domestic markets, which equals less than 20 per cent. 

Investment & quality control 
Continued improvements also mean better end product for all consumers, regardless of location. Sutherland and its partners have invested in state-of-the-art packing lines, new packaging and cold-chain for better arrivals. “We also spend a lot of time at destinations, inspecting our arrivals, understanding how our picking, packing and cold-chain techniques affect our fruit. It allows us to continuously improve year after year.” 

Organic packing
Last year Sutherland began packing organic apples for export markets, which were well received in Asia. They’re adding on programs for organic cherries and blueberries this season. “This is a growing category for Sutherland, with plenty of interest from our clients globally.” Chong has more than 20 years of retail experience; in 1984 he started out as an offshore purchaser/field inspector, which definitely provides a lot of insight. “This gives us a unique perspective of knowing what is required on the produce shelf, many growers/packers lack.” 

For more information: 
Rick Chong
Sutherland S.A. Produce
Tel: 403-616-1977 

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