It’s spring — maybe. The way this winter has gone, I wouldn’t be surprised if it snows on me in May at the Major League Baseball game I’m planning to attend, canceling the game before the Kansas City Royals can find a way to lose it (and they can).

After long winter, demand for spring fruit soars

Andy Nelson
Markets Editor

Whatever Mother Nature brings before we’re safely into June, it is a time for hope and optimism. The aforementioned woebegone baseball team is, however, as of this writing, 0-1.

Meanwhile, cherries, stone fruit and a host of other new-season fresh fruits and vegetables are on their way to a store near you.

After a season of cursing the weather, those curses could soon turn to blessings. Bless you, Mother Nature, for being so cruel: it will make spring all the sweeter.

That’s what I’ve been hearing from shipper after shipper the past few weeks. After a long winter, consumers are chomping at the bit for new-season fruit that just screams, “SPRING!”

That’s the vibe those sources are getting from retailers, and fortunately for everyone involved, it looks as though growers are going to be able to deliver.

The winter of 2009-10 has taken its toll on many commodities, but if your stuff grows on trees and you’re lucky enough to be able to wait until April or May to pick it, you’re pretty happy right now.

Abundant chill hours, excellent blooms and good weather since has California cherry and stone fruit growers licking their chops — a gesture consumers around the country will no doubt be repeating in the coming weeks.

Promotion opportunities

Cherry growers expect plentiful supplies of very high-quality fruit, and they’re happy that Memorial Day falls on the latest date possible this year, May 31. The more time they have, the more supplies they’ll have for holiday promotions.

Shippers will happily take promotion prices if it means brisk movement of their fruit.

As irresistible as cherries are — they’re one of the last true seasonal commodities still on the market — not all consumers are like my wife and willing to pay $9.99 per pound for rainiers.

Before the big volumes start hitting and prices start plummeting, as they do most Mays, shippers will deal with the ever-hovering economy issue by packing in clamshells and smaller bags, thereby reducing consumers’ sticker shock.

Strong demand

On the stone fruit side, shippers say the demand created by the extra-harsh winter will be exacerbated by a lighter end to the Chilean deals as a result of the Feb. 27 earthquake. Expect a fairly empty pipeline.

When California peaches, nectarines and plums start hitting stores in late April and early May, consumers can expect not only promotion prices but a wide variety of sizes and pack options.

That’s because with extra-heavy sets this season, growers can prune to their customers’ hearts’ delight, tailoring trees to produce whatever size fruit the market calls for.

It should be good eating — and not too pricey. Now if Mother Nature cooperates, and if the Royals’ doctors find a way to clone Zack Greinke, it should be a marvelous spring.

E-mail anelson@thepacker.com

What's your outlook on the spring fruit crop? Leave a comment and tell us your opinion.