DOVER, Fla. — To help meet high demand this season, Florida strawberry growers expect to pack 27 million flats from more than 10,000 planted acres, compared to 23.7 million flats they packed from 9,500 acres last season, according to the Florida Strawberry Growers Association, Dover.

The quality of the berries helps gain new markets, said Shawn Pollard, salesman for Astin Strawberry Exchange LLC, Plant City.

“It has been remarkable the way the category has continued to grow,” he said.

“We have a good product. We have what they call ‘legs’ on this product. We’re able to ship berries into the Midwest and into Canada. It gives us some fantastic opportunities to increase our market share all over North America.”

Keith Mixon, president of SunnyRidge Farm-Dole, Winter Haven, said the strawberry category can sustain additional sales growth.

He said strawberries over the past couple of years experienced growth in the area of 3%.

“Strawberries have had good growth,” Mixon said. “We all feel like the category needs more growth. As an industry, we need to ask how we can work with these retailers to help drive their success and, subsequently, our success.”

Valerie Lott, director of strawberry business management for Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, Calif., said the grower-shipper sees continued gains in the number of households buying strawberries.

“However, the real opportunity for increasing consumption is the number of pounds on average households consume annually,” she said.

“The fact is more consumers are demonstrating their desire to eat more quality strawberries. The Florida deal as well as the industry as a whole will benefit from this. As demand grows, opportunities for continued growth will benefit strawberry growers.”

Chris Smith, sales manager for BBI Produce Inc., said he and his family find themselves eating more berries in general, even during Florida’s off-season.

He said strawberries’ health benefits also help sell the fruit.

“Everyone is attuned to the health benefits,” Smith said.

“It’s one of the few things that’s not only good for you, but a joy to eat. People have the mindset about healthy things that may not be that tasty. Strawberries are not only healthy, but they’re also wonderful to eat. It’s nice to eat and have both in one package.”

Steve Machell, sales manager for Gulf Coast Produce Inc., said strawberries remain a leader in consumption.

He cited Fresh Trends research conducted by Vance Research Services, a division of Vance Publishing Corp., Lincolnshire, Ill., publisher of The Packer.

The research shows strawberries as the fourth-most consumed fruit, behind bananas, apples and grapes.