Rains may have dampened the production outlook, but there’s no shortage of enthusiasm for the arrival of the new season crop

The arrival of the Picota season is one of the highlights of the annual fresh produce calendar in the UK, the biggest market for the famous hand-picked stalkless cherry from Spain’s Jerte Valley.

Picota cherries A

Picota cherries are known for their sweet flavour

But a shadow has been cast over this year’s campaign after heavy rains swept through the region in May, decimating the cherry crop. For the 3,000 small producers who make up Agrupación de Cooperativas del Valle del Jerte (ACVJ), the region’s biggest producer, the rains could not have come at a worse time, inflicting maximum damage on the delicate crop just as harvesting was about to get underway.

The latest estimates point to a 50 per cent reduction in the Picota crop and 80 per cent loss in the overall cherry harvest in Jerte. Together with shortfalls in other producing countries, this summer’s European cherry offer will be significantly curtailed.

Speaking at the launch of the UK marketing campaign last week, Laura Buezas, the group’s marketing manager, said growers are facing up to the situation with characteristic resilience.

“This is the worst production campaign we’ve experienced since 1988, but thanks to the strong commercial relationships we’ve built in the UK our customers can rest assured that we’ll be doing all we can to fulfil our commitments,” she said.

A wide range of activities highlighting the unique story behind the Picota cherry have once again been planned for the UK market, which accounts for around half of all Picota sales. Organised by PR agency RED Communications in coordination with ACVJ, it covers point-of-sale, social media and consumer and trade press.

Branded shroud units will be used to display Picotas in Morrisons stores, this having proved to be a highly effective way to drive sales during the cherry’s short sales window. Other activities include consumer and trade advertising, competitions and extensive social media activities featuring well-known food bloggers and influencers.

Picota cherries are native to Jerte Valley, in northern Extremadura, where they have traditionally been cultivated since the XVII century. Their popularity is growing every year in the UK thanks to increased awareness of their numerous health benefits and the sustainable way they are grown, combining traditional cultivation and harvesting methods passed down from generation to generation with cutting-edge sorting and packing technology.

The fruit is picked by hand only when the cherries have matured to perfection on the tree. The stalk is left on the tree, and the fruit only comes away from its stalk once it has reached optimum ripeness.

“Picota cherries might be small but they pack a punch when it comes to flavour,” Buezas said. “No other variety has a higher brix, making them the sweetest cherry you can buy.”