The retail segment remains the most active buyer of Florida’s fresh strawberries, said Shawn Pollard, salesman for Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC.
During the start of the season and into December, buyers were highly receptive and eager to begin promotions, he said.
“We try to focus on the ones that can move the tonnage,” Pollard said. “When we have these big days, we have to have retailers set up to help us move the volume we pick. We will do more than 4 million cases this year. We have to have all our ducks in a row and have them help us move all that product, which they move very well.”
Strawberries have become a destination item for retailers.
Produce managers set up large displays, place strawberries on ad and see shoppers place more clamshells of berries in their shopping carts, grower-shippers report.
“I think retailers are recognizing that strawberries are a driver of sales throughout the produce department,” said Gary Wishnatzki, president and CEO of Wish Farms.
“Strawberries are a drawing card for ads but also within the department, they draw people in as they’re something people are specifically looking for in the produce department. It’s also an impulse item and people are picking up other fresh produce items.”
Retailers do well merchandising the berries by setting up large displays that catch shoppers’ attention, said Jeremy Burris, vice president of sales and sourcing for the Florida division of Salinas, Calif.-based Colorful Harvest LLC.
“At many of these chains, especially the local retailers in Florida, it’s good to see them erecting displays and running big promotions, especially toward the peak of the season in late March,” he said.
“We always want to see more, but we get a fair shake and they do a good job merchandising the fruit.”
Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Inc. sells the majority of its berries to retailers.
Dan Crowley, vice president of sales, said the latter part of the year and throughout winter are the times when retailers construct more berry patch displays.
Because of smaller strawberry supplies during late fall and early winter, the displays usually feature a variety of berries, including strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries.
As strawberry volume increases, however, produce managers usually develop stronger strawberry sales and build bigger displays, he said.
“They know strawberries are a commodity that brings customers into the stores and keeps them coming back,” Crowley said. “It drives the produce department and brings one of the highest dollar returns for the retailers. It’s something that people get excited about and all the retailers want to carry them 12 months of the year.”
Strawberries are growing in importance at retail, said Chris Smith, sales manager for Dover-based BBI Produce Inc.
“The berry category is becoming increasingly more important to the retailers,” he said.
“In some chains, the berry category has become the main focus of the produce department these days. It has gotten to the point where people get upset if there aren’t strawberries or blueberries or at least one of those items, if not some portion of those items in the stores.”
Produce managers do well with the category, said Steve Machell, sales manager for Dover-based Gulf Coast Produce Inc.
“They do a phenomenal job and with their front end displays, they do well merchandising the product,” he said.
“When you hit the peak of the season in last February and March, they do a great job pushing them. Strawberries are becoming higher in sales every year and are seeing increasing demand.”