The California strawberry industry anticipates a big year.
“We have a big season ahead,” said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing for San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce. “I’m certain, if the weather cooperates, we’ll have another record year of growth in sales in the strawberry industry. Hopefully we’re not at that point of diminishing returns.”
Robert Verloop, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, said the future looks bright for berries.
“With domestic and international production estimated to double in the next five years, there are many opportunies to grow consumption (especially in the West),” he said. “The berry category is now a year-round favorite with a lot of upside.”
Munger said his company is riding a wave of popularity that California berries have enjoyed.
“We’re seeing a lot of growth, despite the economy. If you focus on efficiencies and you truly stay committed to flavor, it’s a good combination,” he said.
The company tries to stay focused on strawberries, in contrast to others who have ventured into other berry categories, Munger said.
“We’ve worked really hard to try and stay disciplined to the whole flavor thing, and ultimately that becomes a value to customers, that they know that they’re going to have a consistent experience every time they purchase, and we’re not great at that in the produce industry,” he said.
Consistency in quality and taste are vital, he said.
California shipped 152 million trays of strawberries last year, and, as of early April, it was ahead of that pace this season, according to the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.
“Last year, our shipments were up almost 4%, said Chris Christian, the commission’s vice president of marketing. “Strawberries are now a $2.1 billion crop. So far this year, our acreage went up by almost 4% over 2008. Production so far has been trending ahead of last year — by 2.5 million trays right now.”
The weather has cooperated nicely, Christian said.
“We have favorable weather, so our production outlook is great going to spring holidays,” she said. “We have good production, healthy plants. Things are shaping up for a very nice spring holiday season.”
The commission’s main retail marketing focus will remain in category development, Christian said.
“The berry category is now one of the strongest in the industry,” she said. “More consistent quality makes product more available to consumers.”
Christian said strawberry sales this year already had increased almost 6% over the same period a year ago.
David Cook, sales manager, Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., said supplies in late March had increased after a short-lived dip.
“They were fairly snug for awhile,” he said. “The market dropped a little bit, and everybody has been kind of readjusting themselves. The price went down.”
There may have been an oversupply for a short time, as well, he said.
“There was more on the market at a time when it wasn’t ready to sustain the extra the price they were selling at last week,” he said in late March. “You get the expensive berries out of the system and get the cheaper ones in. In the meantime, Florida is cutting back on production. They’re kind of readjusting themselves a little, too.”
Overall, though, the strawberry market has been healthy, Cook noted.
“I’d say it’s been very, very good before it dropped a little bit,” he said. “We have more this year, but it’s just a function of the way the land was used. They’ve been moving very well up to now — very competitive compared to what has been out there.”