Harvest is well under way in the Northwest, and soon the shelves will be filled with the sweet 2021 crop. As detailed in our last report, the end of May brought cool and unsettled weather which delayed the first pick for many of our early growers. Similar weather patterns have largely continued to be the case as harvest slowly spreads and picks up speed in other spots across the Northwest. Atypical storm fronts and lower daytime temperatures have caused growers to delay picking in order to allow their fruit to reach optimal maturity before harvest, which has led to an overall slower start to harvest and limited initial volumes. To date, our industry has shipped just under 600,000 boxes total, much less than forecasted before the cooler weather.
2021 Shipped Crop To Date: 0.6 million boxes
2021 Round 3 Crop Estimate: 22.4 million boxes
As growers dig into more and more orchards, optimism about the great quality to be found rises. While most growers are not looking at a full crop this season, their combined volume will steadily increase over the coming days and should produce a steady supply for later June through mid-August promotions. As always, there a few growers with cherries before and after the main curve as well.
July may not hit the high volumes we saw in 2017 (15 million) or 2018 (13.5 million), but at an estimated 11.3 million boxes the 2021 crop should deliver just under the 5-year average of 11.8 million boxes in July. That means plenty of quality fruit for promotions throughout the month.
The chart below gives a 2 year overview of the Pacific coast cherry crop, as well as the Northwest's Round 3 estimate projected as a crop curve. (Click to enlarge) As evidenced by the dark red line of 2021's actual shipments, the pace of harvest has slowed since the date of estimate, but the general distribution of volume continues to track along with the estimate. With a slower start, that will also push a few more cherry boxes into July's total.
Due to the early crop reduction as a result of several April cold snaps on trees already pruned, we are seeing some cherries that are sizing up well despite being a week to ten days away from harvest. Widespread optical sorting ensures that the quality of the crop that reaches the market is, as always, top quality coming from the Northwest. Delivering that high quality to the consumer will be especially key this summer. Multiple studies show consumer shopping patterns continue to be disrupted as we adapt our pandemic and re-emergent behaviors & purchasing habits to the "new normal" amidst rising front line prices across much of the store. With limited availability in this period of transition between the California and Northwest crops, neither retailers nor growers can afford to miss this summer's reduced window of promotional opportunity.