(March 24) WENATCHEE, Wash. — In a move that is expected to increase Stemilt Growers Inc.’s cherry production by 1 million cases, the company recently acquired a majority ownership in Chinchiolo Fruit Co., Stockton, Calif.

Roger Pepperl, director of marketing for Stemilt, said Chinchiolo is responsible for 18% of California’s overall cherry production. He said the move should bring Stemilt’s production from an estimated 2.5 million cases this year up to 3.5 million by 2004.

In addition, Pepperl said, the move will extend the availability of Stemilt’s cherries throughout the entire deal, with cherry production beginning in May in California and finishing up in August in Washington.

“The major advantage is that Chinchiolo is becoming a major power in the early cherry deal,” he said. “They have a lot of cherries in May. Stemilt is famous for having the late deal. We have more cherries at the end of the cherry deal than anybody. You’re talking the longest continuous supply chain of fresh cherries to the marketplace in North America.”

Pepperl said Stemilt’s retail customers will benefit from the deal since they will have a greater supply of cherries for a longer period of time.

“There’s some real powerful things coming together,” he said. “This is a huge deal. It will allow us to offer a retail plan through the whole cherry deal that will allow them not to miss a week of the deal.”

As part of the move, Stockton-based Sierra Hills Marketing, which had marketed Chinchiolo’s cherry deal, will become part of Stemilt. Employees of Sierra Hills will stay on board, helping Stemilt form a marketing office in California.

In addition, Stemilt will take over marketing for Sierra Hills Packing, which produces apples and pears out of California.

Michael Collins, director of marketing for Sierra Hills, said the staff at both companies will remain the same but with bigger responsibilities.

“Initially we will continue to market the California program,” he said. “And then we will have to introduce the Stemilt company into the California cherry, apple and pear industry.”

Collins said he is looking forward to working with Stemilt as the companies come together.

“It’s a great opportunity,” he said. “We’re joining forces with one of the best apple, pear and cherry shippers in the world. We’re adding some experience and providing a longer opportunity for our customers to receive the same product. It’s going to be a good learning experience.”