Strawberry volumes will start to return to normal as the Oxnard, Calif., deal picks up steam, but Valentine’s Day supplies could still be tight.

Strawberry supplies may be tight for Valentine’s Day

Harvests on both coasts were running about two weeks late the week of Jan. 10, said Dan Crowley, sales manager for Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Inc.

“Oxnard just got under way,” Crowley said. “We should start to see shipments by next week.”

Strawberry volumes in December were very light on the East and West coasts because of cold in Florida and rain in California, Crowley said.

Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Plant City, Fla.-based Wishnatzki Farms, said supplies were better than last year at this time — but that’s not saying much, given the historic freezes in January 2010.

“Supplies are very tight this January,” he said. “Some production that we anticipated hasn’t materialized. It’s been one weather issue after another. And it’s not like retailers can fall back on California. They’re having their share of problems, too.”

It will probably be a few weeks before California volumes return to normal, and markets should stay strong as a result, said Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Oxnard-based Boskovich Farms.

On Jan. 11, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $22-26 for flats of eight 1-pound containers of medium strawberries from California, up from $16-18.90 last year at the same time.

Flats of Florida strawberries were $20.90, up from $12.90-14.90 last year.

Supplies won’t likely start to pick up until after Valentine’s Day, Wishnatzki said.

“We’ll have some production for Valentine’s Day, but not enough to warrant large-scale promotions,” he said.

Wishnatzki is hoping fruit comes on in February to avoid a repeat of last season’s March glut.

The one silver lining, Wishnatzki said, has been the taste and condition of Florida fruit shipping this winter.

“We’ve had real positive feedback from customers,” he said. “The quality is outstanding.”

Cold weather in California has made plants hardy, Widerburg said.

After two big freezes in Florida in December, there was the possibility of another one about Jan. 13, Crowley said.

Wishnatzki Farms had plans to water plants Jan. 13 to prevent freeze damage — something Wishnatzki wasn’t looking forward to, since it will further slow the growth of plants.

Sizing was large on California berries in early January because fruit was taking so long to grow, Crowley said. Despite the wet weather, quality has been good, and the forecast the week of Jan. 10 was for dry conditions, he said.

Marketers could have trouble finding enough strawberries for Valentine’s Day promotions, Crowley said.

“There will be some supplies for Valentine’s Day, but not enough,” he said.

Oxnard volumes won’t start to peak until April, Crowley said. Florida supplies are likely to wind down in March, he said.