(April 12) When it comes to strawberry sales, advertising pays. Abby Taylor, communications specialist for The California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville, says 15% of consumers go to grocery stores that advertise strawberries. If you can get strawberry customers in your store, think of the other items they will be enticed to buy.

BERRY TRENDS

The commission conducted consumer research last year and found that 56% of people plan to purchase strawberries when they walk into a store, Taylor says. And 35% of shoppers will purchase strawberries on impulse.

It is important to understand who is buying strawberries and how to entice them. Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, says on its Web site that a whopping 94% of people in the U.S. eat strawberries. According to the site, the most common customer is a health-conscious female homemaker between 25 and 64 years old with a family consisting of two or more children.

Other commonalities among strawberry purchasers include:

  • They spend three times more money on produce than nonstrawberry buyers.


  • They buy 43% more groceries than consumers who don’t buy the fruit.


  • Forty-nine percent of heavy to medium berry buyers will go to another store if your supply runs out.



CONSISTENCY COUNTS

Strawberries are available year-round, but peak volumes occur March through August when harvested acreage from California, Florida, North Carolina and Mexico overlaps.

Still, consumers associate strawberries with the spring and summer. So start planning now for picnic and salad promotions to push strawberries during those months when supplies are at their peak.

But you don’t have to wait for summer.

Taylor says the commission found that 88% of heavy strawberry users would like to see berries in their grocery stores year-round. And as long as people can buy berries, they will eat them. Taylor says a 2003 study by the commission found that 53% of people said they ate strawberries every day, compared to 39% in 1998.

A NICE VARIETY

Of the several strawberry varieties grown in California, a new variety introduced in 2002 — ventana — is making strides.

Vince Lopes, vice president of sales and marketing for Coastal Berry Co. LLC, Watsonville, says the ventana attracts consumers because of its teardrop shape, bright color and good size.

Last year the ventana accounted for 3.6% of acreage. This year its acreage more than doubled to 8.8%.

Craig Moriyama, vice president of strawberry sales in Watsonville for Global Berry Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., says he expects the ventana to replace camarosas.

However, Lopes says the camarosa is still the most highly requested variety. It’s sought after widely in the industry because most buyers like the full red color. The texture and flavor of the camarosa also is good, he says.

THE BIGGER, THE BETTER

According to the commission, a variety of packaging options can increase sales by 17%. Tim Youmans, national retail sales manager for Driscoll, says retailers should use packaging options that meet their customers needs.

For example, Mark Yotsuya, sales representative for Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville, says the company offers 1-pint, 1-pound, 2-pound and 4-pound containers to fulfill retailers’ demand for variety.

Even with the many options, Moriyama of Global Berry Farms says clamshell packs are the predominant retail item, with about 80% of business done in clamshell packaging. Furthermore, the 1-pound clamshell is the most common size, with more than 80% of strawberries packed in 1-pounders, Taylor says.

But she says 2- and 4-pound packages are gaining in popularity.

Quality packaging also is important. Youmans says better packaging keeps berries in good shape, reduces shrink and makes displays nicer.

PUSH THOSE BERRIES

Since strawberries bring shoppers to your store, Lopes of Coastal Berry Farms recommends advertising the fruit on the front and back page of your circulars. Lopes says some retailers even promote strawberries at such low prices that they lose money on the item just to lure shoppers.

A popular way to merchandise strawberries is in a berry patch-themed display, which helps increase sales of the whole berry category.

“A great companion item if you’re going to bring home some strawberries is to bring home raspberries and blueberries,” says Youmans of Driscoll.

Robert Garcia, produce manager for Gardner’s Markets Pinecrest, one of four stores based in Pinecrest, Fla., says the store offers strawberries year-round and the fruit makes up 10% to 15% of produce sales. The store sells the berries loose by the pound because customers like to pick their own, but also includes wrapped pints within the bulk display.

Gardner’s places the display in the front of the store in a 3- to 4-foot refrigerated case so it is the first thing shoppers see.

To promote strawberries, Garcia says the store makes its own signs that say “Berry Sweet” and indicates where they were grown. The store also lets shoppers sample strawberries and posts recipes on a bulletin board for customers to get ideas.

Phil Foley, produce clerk for Geissler’s Supermarket, one of five stores based in East Windsor, Ontario, says Geissler’s displays strawberries with blueberries, raspberries, blackberries and cut melon. The store hangs signs that say “California Strawberries,” and advertises the fruit in its flier.

Foley says the store sells strawberries in 1-pint, 1-quart and 1-pound packages. He says it typically sells two 8-count cases of strawberries a day at $5.50 per 1-pound container. But when it sells them at $2.49 per 1-pound container and places them on a front table, the store goes through 10 or more cases a day.

Dwayne Smallwood, produce manager for Okie’s, Ocean Park, Calif., one of two stores, says Okie’s usually sells strawberries in bulk or 1-pound clamshells in a small cold rack when they’re not on sale. When volume is high, the store displays strawberries on an 8-foot dry table and prices 1-pound clamshells on special for 99 cents each or half-flats for $2.99 each. At these prices, the store sells about 150 packages a day, he says.

CAPITALIZE ON FAD DIETS

Diets like Atkins and South Beach limit one’s intake of fruit because of the natural glycemic levels fruit contains. However, Coastal Berry’s Lopes says berries in general have low glycemic levels and are thus acceptable in low-carbohydrate diets.

With millions of consumers counting carbs, promote the low net carbs that strawberries have and give health-conscious berry lovers clearance to consume the fruit.