Wet, and in some cases wet and freezing, weather in all California growing regions this year should produce gaps, said Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner of Salinas, Calif.-based Colorful Harvest LLC.
The industry was in the midst of one of those gaps the week of March 26, and forecasts for more rain promised more gaps, Ranno said.
“There are windows where there’s traditionally a lot of fruit available, and there won’t be this spring,” he said. “People are going to have to have to get used to prices being higher.”
On March 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported $14-16 for flats of 12 1-pint containers of medium and large strawberries from California, up from $13-14 last year at the same time.
Shortages were coming at the worst possible time, said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Inc. — right before Easter, which falls on April 8 this year.
“The estimates are for really good production, but for right after Easter,” Jewell said March 27. “This week and next week will be a little dicey.”
In addition to the moisture, cool temperatures were slowing the growth of fruit in late March, Jewell said.
Jewell said upward pressure on price would be tempered by the knowledge that highly promotable volumes were just around the corner. California Giant is encouraging retailers to think of Easter as a launching pad for aggressive spring promotions, once the sun comes out and volumes start hitting.
It was hard to know when markets would stabilize, Ranno said. A “good run” of dry, sunny weather was one prerequisite, he said.
According to The Weather Channel’s March 29 forecasts, Watsonville was expected to get rain March 31 and April 4-6; Santa Maria March 31 and April 5-7; and Oxnard April 6-7.
Quality was good in late March, Ranno said, but in many cases fields were too wet for pickers to get to them.
“There’s nice, red fruit hanging in all regions, but it’s hard to get out in some cases,” he said.
Jewell also reported excellent quality.
As of the week of March 26, Mexico and Florida had effectively finished and Colorful Harvest was sourcing the majority of its strawberries from Oxnard and Santa Maria, Ranno said.
Light volumes were shipping from Salinas/Watsonville, he said. Those volumes would pick up steadily through April.