Pamela RiemenschneiderShippers of California strawberries and asparagus expect markets to strengthen in the runup to Easter, but promotable volumes of both holiday favorites should be readily available.
Strawberry demand was strong in late February and would likely strengthen for Easter, said David Cook, sales manager for Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif.
Cook expects a good transition, with California volumes coming on just as Florida and Mexico were winding down. By Easter, which falls on April 8 this year, the Golden State should have the deal more or less to itself, he said.
“Things are working out the way they should for a change,” he said.
California volumes will start to peak the week after Easter, but there will still be plenty of promotable volume for the holiday, said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant Inc., Watsonville.
“Easter is a make-or-break weekend for retail, and we’re going to have fruit,” she said.
That said, California Giant is encouraging retailers to see Easter as the starting point for strong spring promotions culminating in Mother’s Day May 13, Jewell said.
With Florida and Mexico volumes declining, markets would likely strengthen for the holiday, Jewell said.
“Volumes will be a little iffy, so hopefully we’ll be able to pull a decent price,” she said.
On Feb. 28, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16-18 for flats of 12 1-pint baskets of medium and large strawberries from California, up slightly from $15-16 last year at the same time.
As of the end of February, volatile weather in Florida left growers there fighting some quality issues, Jewell said.
On Feb. 28, eight 1-pound cartons of medium and large strawberries from Florida were $7.90-8.90, up from $6.90 last year at the same time.
For Easter, supplies will be heaviest from Oxnard and Baja California, Mexico, though the Santa Maria region also will have some product, Cook said.
Weather could throw a wrench in plans for some growers, Jewell said. Watsonville had rain at the end of February, and expected cool weather at the beginning of March would likely keep numbers down, she said.
Rain wasn’t an issue in Oxnard as of Feb. 29, Cook said.
“If it rains in March, it really messes things up, but we’ve hardly any at all this whole season,” he said.
Mexican asparagus volumes will likely decline in March faster than California volumes will increase, leading to strong markets for Easter, said James Paul, salesman for Stockton, Calif.-based Greg Paul Produce and Calexico, Calif.-base Altar Produce LLC.
Prices for 28-pound boxes will likely be in the $38.75-42.75 range for Easter, Paul predicted.
On Feb. 28, the USDA reported prices of $18.75-20.75 for 28-pound cartons and crates of bunched standard asparagus from Mexico, down from $38.75-40.75 last year at the same time.
Because of sluggish markets thus far this season, Peru, which has sought stronger markets elsewhere, will not likely be a big player this Easter, he said.
Despite Mexico’s March exit from the deal, and the fact that California will not quite be peaking by Easter, there should be enough asparagus to go around for the holiday, Paul said.
“There should be ample supplies for retailers to do exactly what they want to do: promote,” he said.
Because of excellent growing weather this winter, quality out of California for Easter should be “phenomenal,” Paul said.
Demand for asparagus typically doubles at Easter, often making it hard for shippers to fill orders, said Steve Couture, co-owner of Couture Farms, Huron, Calif.
Because of a very cold December and cold start to the New Year, Mexican volumes should still be ample for Easter pull, Couture said.
“I think there will be fairly good supplies,” he said.