Export demand should help buoy California cherry markets, particularly early in the deal.

Hanford, Calif.-based Flavor Tree Fruit Co., which markets fruit packed by Hanford-based Warmerdam Packing LLC, thinks so much of its export customers, it test-marketed its new proprietary Yosemite variety with them last season, said Maurice Cameron, Flavor Tree’s president.

In fact, it was an export customer who came up with the name for the variety, which is in major production this year for the first time, Cameron said.

“One of our English customers suggested Yosemite because it was as hard as a rock,” he said. “It stuck.”

Flavor Tree shipped the Yosemite by air to Europe and Australia and by boat to Latin America, he said.

In its first season with a full-fledged California cherry program, Fridley, Minn.-based Roland Marketing, which markets Green Giant-branded cherries, expects strong demand from Asian markets, said Joan Tabak, Roland’s sales manager.

“Asia will pull throughout the entire season,” she said. “They love cherries, and will pay top dollar.”

Asian export demand is especially strong at the beginning of the deal, which this year should be around April 20-22, Tabak said. It’s not unusual for customers to pay $100 or more for a box of California cherries, she said. 

California shippers will benefit from a new protocol on cherry shipments to Japan, Cameron said.

For the first time, California will be able to take advantage of a protocol, established in time for the 2009 Washington crop, in which cherries can be shipped without being treated with methyl bromide, he said.

That will improve quality and shelf-life of product shipped to Japan, Cameron said.

Stockton, Calif.-based Grower Direct Marketing LLC expects strong export demand for one of its newer varieties, the coral, said Jimmy Williams, the company’s domestic and export sales manager.

Williams characterizes the coral, a specialty of the com-pany’s early-season Arvin deal, as a “real dark and big” piece of fruit, which is similar to the traditional early-season brooks variety, but more hardy.

Grower Direct’s goal is to export a third of its cherries, Williams said. The Japanese market is still a very good destination for the company, he said.

Korea and Taiwan remain very active markets, as well.

One trend the company is seeing is more cherries being exported directly into Shanghai, Beijing and other cities and regions of China, Williams said.

China produces a lot of its own cherries, he said. But customers there are more and more willing to pay extra for premium California product.

Cameron agreed.

“They’re looking to buy what they can’t get locally — big, dark cherries,” he said.

Flavor Tree’s direct shipments to China last season were very successful, Cameron said.

An emerging market for Grower Direct is India, Williams said. The company ex-ported a very small amount to the country last year, and expects to ship more in 2010, despite cold chain-related issues.

“I think it’s in its infancy,”  he said.

Another market that could present more opportunities in 2010 for Grower Direct is Europe, Williams said.

Last year wasn’t a great year for European sales for the company because Spain had a big crop, he said. This year, however, weather has delayed the start of the Spanish deal, opening the door for California just as it gets underway.

“I think there’s a good two-to-three-week window, especially in the U.K.,” in the first two weeks of May, Williams said.

Cameron said his company expected to move a lot more product in Europe this season because of that window.

In 2009, Kingsburg, Calif.-based Valhalla Sales & Marketing Co. had a very small export cherry deal, said Steve Nelsen, managing partner.

With a big crop expected in 2010, exports could be a more attractive channel for grower-shippers, he said.

Korea and Hong Kong are traditional export markets for Valhalla, Nelsen said. A brand new market for the company is India, he said. Valhalla ships all of its export cherries by air.