Strawberry sense and sensibility

08/23/2013 09:59:00 AM
Mike Hornick

Mike Hornick, Staff WriterMike Hornick, Staff WriterIs there such a thing as esprit de corps, the spirit of a people? Or are we all so uniquely individual that the mere idea could tangle us up in stereotypes?

In a scene from the film “Monty Python’s Life of Brian,” a crowd of people shout and chant in unison: “We’re all individuals! We’re all different!”

They were not as different as they thought.

There really is such a thing, for example, as the spirit of the American people — or the Japanese people. Just look at the market for fresh strawberries in each country.

In the U.S., we like our strawberries big and full-color. Not mutant big, but bigger than we had as kids. At the supermarket we load them into our big cars.

But Japan likes a berry on the petite side. There’s even hefty demand for less than fully ripened strawberries. It’s a niche market that Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Berries knows well.

“In Japan they like it when the shoulders of the strawberry are still white,” said Julie Lucido, chief executive officer of Fresno, Calif.-based Marketing Plus, which markets for Well-Pict. “From a culinary standpoint they like the look of the two colors. It’s just a little bit, but to them it’s phenomenal.”

“The Japanese love perfection, so they want that perfect, conical little berry that fits on a little slice of cake they can have with their green tea every day,” said Dan Crowley, Well-Pict sales manager.

It’s not a huge market, but it’s one that Well-Pict owner Tim Miyasaka has catered to. The company handles about two thirds of the California strawberries headed there, Crowley said.

The small fruit is packed in something like an egg carton, with individual bowls for each berry — think labor-intensive. Where fruit for the U.S. market might load 3,000 boxes on a truck, Japanese customers may get orders of 40 or 60 boxes.

Once air freight is added, those customers are likely to pay triple the domestic f.o.b — or $27 if fruit is moving for $9 per box or flat in the U.S.

“It’s harvested about two-thirds color,” Crowley said. “Here it can look ridiculous, but once it gets over there they’re using it for the confectionary business.”

Raspberries get a piece of the action too.

“There’s a pretty big market in Japan for pastries with a business card,” said Scott Adams, a raspberry breeder at Plant Sciences Inc., Watsonville. “You go to visit a client, and they’re not in, so you leave a cake on their desk. A lot of the small raspberries and strawberries are used that way.”

I wonder how someone calling on multiple clients handles the logistics. And how many clients just pretend they’re not in?

mhornick@thepacker.com

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