B.C. Cherries

The Quest for the Perfect Cherry

By Amanda Philipow

Published July 2022

We look forward to summer for so many reasons. Sure, there’s warm weather, seasonal events, and cold drinks on a patio, but nothing gets us quite as excited as the sight of perfectly ripe B.C. cherries. As soon as July rolls around, it’s common to see signs for these gems on a stem everywhere you turn — but we’re proud to say that our cherries are unlike any other. When you visit our markets, be assured that you’ll find only the biggest, juiciest and sweetest cherries that B.C. has to offer.

But how are we able to make such a promise? The short answer is our people. Quality is always our priority when it comes to our offerings, and we guarantee that quality by being involved with our products as much as we can, all the way from farm to table. Not all cherries are created equal, and it’s been our longtime goal to bring our customers only the biggest, sweetest and most delectable fruits by working closely with the farmers and growers on the front lines. When you visit our markets, there’s no need to sort through pint after pint looking for the perfect cherries — it’s already been done! 

As an Alberta-based business, we often can’t be out in the orchards ourselves. That’s why we rely on the knowledge and dedication of produce experts across the Okanagan valley to cherry-pick only the best fruit. One special and trusted relationship we’ve grown to cherish over the last 14 years is that with Jason Wiebe; owner of Chongo’s Market in Calgary and our eyes and ears out in the B.C. orchards. We had the pleasure of talking to Jason virtually to discuss the details of this unique collaboration. He video calls us from an orchard in Osoyoos, walking through bright green rows of apple trees and perfectly setting the scene for our chat.

With a rich background in both wholesale and retail (and a loyal customer of our West Market Square location), Jason has a wide scope of knowledge when it comes to what’s important to both retailers and consumers. Splitting his time between Alberta and B.C., Jason was thrilled to begin working with Sunterra in 2008 and discover how we could work together to bring the best of B.C. to Sunterra customers.

The journey began when he spoke with José Lomeli, vice president of operations and purchasing at Sunterra Market, and discovered that they shared a vision: provide an exceptional customer experience by offering a superior, local product direct from the growers. 

“What we’re doing here really sets the table for other things in the store to say we are indeed local, and we can put you in touch with the farmer through our offerings,” Jason beams. “It’s not just willy-nilly, we don’t care, get on the phone, buy produce from wherever and it doesn’t matter — that’s just not the strategy at Sunterra at all.” 

As part of this objective, Jason and José set out to form longstanding relationships with farmers across the Okanagan. Having shared values with these farmers when it comes to product quality and supportive, healthy work environments for team members has also been an integral part of what keeps these relationships thriving over the years. From 2008 to 2018, Jason spent two days a week all summer long scoping out orchards and finding the best fruit across B.C., and that time spent searching has only increased over the last few years. Having Jason as an in-person resource gives us the ability to bring in only the best of what's growing, not just what happens to be available, and cherries are the cornerstone of this mentality. 

“If you want to know something, I’m there. Just tell meto go find it,” he says, painting a clear picture of this special dynamic.  

The growth of cherries is entirely dependent on weather and elevation, meaning we source our cherries from as far South as Osoyoos all the way up to Vernon following what has aptly become known as the Cherry Trail. Varieties that thrived in one region one year may not be as readily available the next, and that’s why we work with Jason to seek out the best cherries each and every season. And when we say seek out, we really mean it. You’ll find Jason carefully combing through rows and rows of cherries and picking out the perfect ones. So how does he know when one meets the Sunterra standard?

“A cherry that’s hearty, large, crispy, sweet — I want that,” Jason smiles. 

He rattles off the harvesting order of nine cherry varieties from memory starting with Chelan and tells a bit about his favourite kind (it’s Skeena, if you were wondering). Jason also explains that if a crop isn’t up to standard, he’ll wait for better cherries rather than select ones that are “just okay” solely for the sake of time. It’s this trust, integrity and commitment to providing the best possible quality that allows us to offer our customers a B.C. cherry you won’t find anywhere else. It also means we’re able to have freshly picked cherries from the tree to your table at home in as little as 72 hours. 

“I’m always in the business of finding the best quality [for Sunterra]. If I'm not achieving it in one place, I’ll venture elsewhere,” Jason says proudly. 

Many Sunterra team members take an annual trip up to B.C.to visit the farmers and catch a glimpse of the treasured fruit for themselves, too. Of course, they can’t stay all season (even though we’re sure they’d like to), and that’s when we trust Jason to take over. His knowledge, experience and dedication to our shared vision has made him an endless source of information and an integral part of the Sunterra family.

So the next time you visit our markets and take a bite out of a crisp two-bite cherry, we invite you to savour that taste a little extra and remember the care that went into choosing it. 

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