Washington state’s cherry growers have lots to smile about this year. With the growing season coming to a close, Washington has already produced enough cherries to fill 22 million 20-pound boxes. But it is where these cherries are going that has growers even more excited. About 92% of cherries, which cannot be stored for long periods of time, are exported by air. The International Airport of Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) is responsible for the bulk of these shipments, the majority of which are now going to Asia.
Due to growing demand for cherries by the rising middle classes in Asia, numerous Asian airlines stop in at Sea-Tac to pick up Washington cherries to take back home. This year, Taiwanese airline EVA Airways has added three additional weekly cargo flights, Asiana two weekly flights, China Airlines five weekly flights, and Korean Air five weekly flights. Additionally, China Eastern and Nippon Cargo have added weekly charters so they can better serve their customers’ increasing demand for cherries. Nicknamed “Cherry Charters,” these flights signal a boom in increased trade between Washington and its Asian markets. The China Eastern flights in particular are important, as they deliver the cherries to retailers that then directly deliver to customers willing to pay $10 a pound for this delicacy.
Additionally, Washington’s cherry farmers are benefitting from the worldwide web, where many Chinese consumers do their daily shopping. Through a partnership between Northwest Cherry growers, which represents Washington cherry farmers as well as Oregon, Montana, Idaho and Utah, and Tmall.com, Chinese online shoppers can have cherries delivered to their doorstep within 72 hours. WOMAI.com is also cashing in on growing demand for cherries with its recent partnership with Washington that began in June. Under the agreement, cherries are shipped from Seattle on a non-stop cargo flight to China, thereby allowing WOMAI to virtually guarantee fresh, quality cherries.
As the largest producer of cherries in the United States, Washington has much to gain from Asia’s increased demand. About two-thirds of Washington’s agricultural exports go to Asia and four of Washington’s top five export markets are in Asia, including China, Japan, the Philippines and South Korea. In 2012, China imported 2 million boxes of cherries from Washington, with total goods imports from Washington valued at $7.87 billion. That same year Washington, along with California, another large cherry producer, exported a combined total of 650,000 20-pound cartons of cherries to South Korea.
Sarah Batiuk is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington, DC.