Report on Business: Birth of a Cherry

Catch and Release for The Deep


Birth of a Cherry

Report on Business | April 2018

Around 80% of the world’s cherry varieties were bred in a little-known Canadian research centre in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley. Its latest success,the Staccato, helped grow the industry by five times in just 13 years.
This is more than the story of a cherry—it’s how agricultural engineering is constantly changing the foods you eat

Dangling a single blood-red Staccato cherry by its green stem, anticipating the toothsome crunch and sweet, mouth-flooding juice, is nearly as pleasurable as consuming it. It’s glossy, with light-red pinstriped speckles, and so plump it seems to be swelling beyond its own tight skin. It’s heart-shaped but slightly flattened, as if squished horizontally between two fingers, with crisp, fragrant flesh. This particular cherry variety is hardy, resists cracking and stores well, and is capable of lasting for weeks in chilly overseas shipping containers. Its trees are self-pollinating and, according to a profile published in the Canadian Journal of Plant Science, “precocious.” Most importantly, Staccato is a late-season variety that ripens in early August, often eight weeks after cherries from Washington State, North America’s largest sweet cherry producer, are yanked from grocery shelves and markets around the world.

That’s important, because Washington currently leads the global market for exported cherries. It would be lunacy to take their producers on directly. But popular Washington cherries like Bing and Rainier ripen nearly a full month earlier, so by the time the Staccato cherries hit the supermarkets, they have virtually no competition. This gives Canadian cherry producers a huge edge in the global cherry market—one that has helped the industry grow nearly five-fold in just 13 years.