“We have a seasonal fresh cherry program and started with a year-round frozen cherry program in 2013,” says Julie McLachlan with Jealous Fruits. “For our fresh program, we have a <1 percent defect-in-the-box requirement. Industry wide, up to 15 percent defects is allowed. In the past, we would sell the product with defects as a 2nd grade product, but now we can sell it into our frozen program,” McLachlan added. The percentage of defects varies from year to year and largely depends on the weather. Normally, about 8-10 percent of Jealous Fruits’ crop goes into the frozen segment.
Growing international demand
Demand for frozen cherries has taken off. “It is driven by health benefits, but also versatility of the product,” said McLachlan. People use them in smoothies, as ice cream toppings and eat them as a piece of fruit. What started out within North America, has developed into an important export product in just a few years. Frozen cherries make their way into Thailand, Vietnam and China. “Right now, we are working on a contract with an Australian retailer and just finalized details on a January promotion in Dubai. This will be the first time we are shipping our frozen cherries to Dubai,” shared McLachlan. In North America, the frozen product is shipped in 600 gr. and 1.5 kg. bags. The larger bags primarily make it into club stores similar to Costco and Sam’s Club. For efficiency reasons, the frozen product to offshore markets is shipped in 25 lb. bulk boxes and retailers re-pack it under their own private label into bags between 300 – 600 grams.
Capacity growing from 500,000 to 1 mln. pounds
All Jealous Fruits’ cherries are grown in British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley. The company’s total cherry production amounted to roughly 7 million lbs. in 2016 with the frozen segment accounting for about 500,000 lbs. “Because of new plantings starting to bear fruit, we can process up to 1 million pounds of frozen cherries by 2018,” shared McLachlan. The cherries for the frozen program are processed at a facility in British Columbia. It’s a fully certified facility with state-of-the-art equipment that freezes the cherries through the IQF method.
According to McLachlan, there is no other Canadian company that freezes only its own fruit. Some processors buy fruit from Chile and Turkey to freeze it at a facility in Canada, but the size of the fruit tends to be smaller. “Generally, size ranges from 24-28 millimeters whereas our product is between 26 and 32 mm,” McLachlan shared. “In addition, we pick at full maturity, which results in a high sugar level and full color.” Jealous Fruits packs both its frozen and fresh cherries. “We only pack our own fruit as we stand by our high-quality product. If we would pack for outside growers, it would be difficult to guarantee the quality.”