Strawberries are growing in importance at retail, says Chris Smith, sales manager for Dover, Fla.-based BBI Produce Inc.
Strawberries are growing in importance at retail, says Chris Smith, sales manager for Dover, Fla.-based BBI Produce Inc.

DOVER, Fla. — Florida strawberry growers-shippers benefit by growing a product that tastes well and is experiencing strong consumer demand.

Strawberries are the fourth-most popular fruit and the eighth most popular category overall, according to Fresh Trends research conducted by Vance Research Services, a division of Vance Publishing Corp., Lincolnshire, Ill., publisher of The Packer.

During the previous year’s Fresh Trends report, strawberries were the third most popular fruit.

Increased consumption should continue, said Jeremy Burris, vice president of sales and sourcing for the Florida division of Salinas, Calif.-based Colorful Harvest LLC.

“Berries are the No. 1 fruit category and strawberries are a top item in the produce section,” he said. “As long as we continue to promote strawberries and continue to promote them to chefs and retailers, they will continue to see increasing consumption. Demand won’t slow, especially with everyone being more interested in healthier eating habits.”

For Shawn Pollard, salesman for Plant City-based Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC, strawberries are a no-brainer.

“We will see continued growth in the category as strawberries are a ready-to-eat product,” he said. “There’s a lot of appeal with a product like that. It’s a good product that’s good for you, and there are very few people who don’t like strawberries. The key to improving consumption is to have better tasting varieties in the pipeline.”

Grower-shippers look for movement to continue to remain strong.

Taste remains critical for driving consumption, said Cammy Hinton, office manager for the Plant City-based Hinton Farms Produce Inc.

“The consumers aren’t going to buy them just for their health if they don’t enjoy them,” she said. “Every new variety Florida has put out is a little better than the other varieties in that respect.”

Dan Crowley, vice president of sales for Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Inc., sees consumer interest and demand for strawberries increasing.

“You do see demand increasing across the board on the fresh as well as the processed side,” he said. “All the health benefits are pointing positively that way and will improve the industry. What we always strive to do is give them a good-eating berry. Good looks will bring them home but good flavor always brings them back.”

Strawberries are becoming a destination item as consumer interest increases and consumers view strawberries differently than in the past, said Gary Wishnatzki, president and CEO of Wish Farms.

When Wishnatzki started in the strawberry industry in 1974, strawberries were perceived as a luxury item and many retailers wouldn’t sell them until price points fell to more marketable levels.

Many of the early berries were sold primarily to the high-end New York bakeries and foodservice operations for production of fancy cakes and other products, he said.

“Over the years, strawberries have transitioned to become an everyday staple,” Wishnatzki said. “Though some may look at them as maybe a luxury, there are a lot of consumers buying strawberries on a much more regular basis than ever before and there’s a certain segment that buys strawberries every week.”

Food bloggers are also affecting berry interest and consumers are increasingly purchasing strawberries as a grab-and-go item and more attention is being placed on recipes and how to use the fruit as a dish or as a main part of a meal, he said.

Retailers do well merchandising strawberries, said Craig Casca, vice president of Oxnard, Calif.-based Red Blossom, which grows and ships from Parkesdale Farms.

“The percentage of berries they’re selling is way up,” he said. “We are moving more volume than we ever have.”

Research shows 95% of shoppers purchase strawberries, said Sue Harrell, director of marketing for the Florida Strawberry Growers Association.

“The produce consuming public wants strawberries, so we provide them,” she said. “When we bridge the winter gap from the other major strawberry producing regions, that’s a value to produce departments because strawberries are in high demand.”

Others, including Steve Machell, sales manager for Gulf Coast Produce Inc., view the category as one benefiting from continual growth.

“In the overall picture, you see strawberries having good numbers from the health benefits of produce and the many cooking shows that promote them,” he said. “Strawberries move really well and we’re seeing strong demand.”

Last season, demand for Florida berries far exceeded supply, Machell said.