PLANT CITY, Fla. — Retailers have become more invested in Florida’s strawberry deal.

It only seems natural as grower-shippers send an overwhelming majority of their berries to supermarkets and club stores.

Cammy Hinton, office manager for Hinton Farms Produce Inc., said things have changed in supermarket aisles regarding strawberry merchandising.

“There has been a huge improvement over the last five years with the way the chain stores in our area are using our products,” she said.

Most Florida strawberries ship to retail customers

Doug Ohlemeier

Chuck Moses (left), quality control manager Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC, Plant City, Fla., and Neal Palmatier, salesman, view some early season berries in early December.
Handlers and growers are telling buyers to expect a strong season.

“They’re staying with our product later in the season and are promoting it. It varies, but it seems like as long as we can provide them with acceptable quality, they’re staying with us a little longer every year.”

Retailers have become bigger customers of Florida strawberries, said Chris Smith, sales manager for BBI Produce Inc., Dover.

“They’re more enthusiastic now and have really come through,” he said.

“They have really done a lot of promotions with this area. Even last season with the tough times we had with the cold, they bailed us out and stuck with us. But our quality was good.”

Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer of Wishnatzki Farms, said strawberries have taken a leading role on supermarket shelves.

“There are so many promotions and (strawberries) have become such a great promotional tool because of their drawing power for consumers,” he said.

“They are a way retailers can get consumers to come into their stores and keep them coming in by promoting them on a regular basis. Strawberries have become one of those items that’s a lead and featured item. Because of that, demand is strong.”

Douglas Ronan, vice president of marketing for Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, Calif., which has operations in Dover, said Florida remains an important component in how Driscoll’s supplies the increasing consumer demand.

“There are certain progressive retailers that really understand the value of featuring that item,” he said.

“They aren’t treating it as a seasonal category anymore. They feature them as something that’s relevant to consumers year-round.”

Cross-merchandising strawberries help increase sales, said Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner with Colorful Harvest LLC, Salinas, Calif.

“Merchandising strawberries in secondary display locations on key fruit products have demonstrated time and time again a 15% to 20% incremental sales increase with all factors considered,” he said.

“As smart produce merchandisers begin to use fact-based tests and industry data to communicate this information to store directors and regional managers, we will continue to see more secondary displays popping up in other parts of the store.”

Ranno said strawberries merchandise well in secondary displays in the cereal aisle, in the bakery area and as grab-and-go store-prepared cups of washed berries in the value-added sections and in lunch cases.

SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, distributes most of its Florida-grown strawberries to customers east of the Mississippi River and in Canada, going further west only on rare occasions, said Sal Toscano, product manager.

Retail is the focus, he said, and other growing regions, such as California, don’t have as big an influence on the market or prices when Florida is in its volume.
“Traditionally, Florida is the leader in winter berry shipments,” Toscano said.

“It’s supply and demand. While we are always conscious of what another major growing region is doing, we don’t pay that much attention to how they are affecting us as much as what we are doing with our product. Florida is a substantial winter strawberry producer.”

Toscano said Florida during recent years has been improving its reputation for producing high quality and good-tasting berries.

Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC ships about 95% of its berries to supermarket buyers. The grower-shipper pre-sells 90% of its crop to supermarket and club stores through contracts, said Shawn Pollard, salesman.

“The festival variety ships well,” he said.

“Once they kick in, it gives you some flexibility to ship to different customers around the U.S.”