PLANT CITY, Fla. — Florida strawberry shipments are starting a little earlier than usual, making Christmas promotions possible.
The season normally builds through December, with promotable retail volume typically hitting just after Christmas.
This year, however, growers expect to bring bigger shipments to the market before Christmas.
In early December, Wish Farms began to load truckload quantities.
Gary Wishnatzki, president and chief executive officer, said he expects to increase shipments through Dec. 23, when retailers can expect heavier movement suitable for promotions.
“We usually have good volume going into Christmas,” he said Dec. 2.
“The season is starting really well. With the radiance variety we are planting so heavily this season, we are having earlier heavy volume.”
Though one of Wish Farms’ growers harvested the season’s first strawberries in late October, those flats were sold locally in the Floral City area and the commercial deal didn’t begin until late November.
Opening season demand is lower than last year, said Shawn Pollard, salesman for Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC.
In early December, Astin said flats of eight 1-pound clamshells from Florida sold for $18-20, lower than last year’s opening season prices of $20-25.
“The demand isn’t near what it was a year ago,” Pollard said on Dec. 2.
“It’s OK, but not bad. The quality is improving and the cooler weather we’re receiving is helping. Sometimes, when growers start early, quality is just so-so. The last two cold snaps we’ve received are sweetening the berries.”
Pollard said he expects to begin large movement in mid-December.
In early December, Astin was harvesting about 9,000 flats a day.
After bigger volume begins, Pollard said Astin expects to load around 40,000 cartons a day.
In early December, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported flats of eight 1-pound clamshells medium-large from central Florida selling for $18.90-20.90.
Last year in early December, the USDA reported those same containers from central Florida selling for $22.90-26.90 for medium-large.
Bradenton-based C&D Fruit & Vegetable Co. Inc. was in the middle of light harvesting of fruit in early December.
Tom O’Brien, president, said he expects to begin larger volume just after Christmas as usual.
“The fields look good and quality is getting better every day,” he said Dec. 3.
“We are finally getting some cool nights. That cooler weather is really helping the berries.”
O’Brien said early December nighttime temperatures fell to high 40s and low 50s, better for the berries than the upper 60s the season saw earlier.
Because of faulty Canadian nursery product, many growers, including C&D and Astin, were forced to pull up plants, which delayed growers’ early season harvesting.
Though C&D reset more than 1 million plants, O’Brien said he didn’t experience as much loss as many others.
Pollard said the resets delayed production but said retailers should expect consistent and bigger volume beginning in late December.