(May 13, 4:45 p.m.) California cherry exporters continue to make gains in South Korea, and Canada replaced Japan as the state’s No. 1 export destination last year, said Mike Rucier, export program manager with Bryant Christie Inc., Seattle, which handles export promotions for the California Cherry Advisory Board, Lodi.

South Korea has been the only market that has consistently grown every year since the industry started promoting cherries there in 2002, Rucier said.

In most countries, exports vary depending on the size of the crop and other factors.

California sent 200,000 cartons of cherries to South Korea last year, making it the third-largest export destination.

In 2002, the first year the state shipped to that country, volume was 12,000 cartons valued at $600,000. Last year’s sales were listed as $10.7 million.

Canada was the top export destination with 856,326 cartons, and Japan was second with 729,704.

The favorable exchange rate enabled Canadian buyers to more readily afford cherries, Rucier said.

“Sales took off like gangbusters,” he said.

The cherry advisory board plans to address the shortfall in Japan, where exports fell from 55% of the state’s production a decade ago to 10% in 2007.

The problem is that retailers there got locked into a target price of 99 yen per 100 grams, which has become an unrealistic price, Rucier said.

“The cherry market has passed them up,” he said.

In an effort to meet that price, retailers have traded down to 11- or 11.5-row cherries, which Japanese consumers do not want and will not buy.

“It should be a 10- or 10.5-row market,” he said.

The advisory board plans to tackle the issue as it did in the U.S., where retailers once were of the mindset that cherries couldn’t be priced over 99 cents per pound and would only sell as loss leaders.

The board will send merchandisers to talk to Japanese retailers and try to persuade them to offer bigger cherries at higher prices.

“You can raise the price on cherries, and they will sell,” Rucier said.

Meanwhile, the board in early April approved a budget of $840,000 to promote California cherries abroad during the last week of May and the first two weeks of June through merchandising events, in-store sampling, paid advertising, public relations activities and plenty of trade communications to keep buyers abreast of the latest crop developments, Rucier said.