(March 6, 3:38 p.m.) Retailers can look forward to abundant supplies of high-quality sweet potatoes, asparagus and strawberries for Easter promotions this year.

And with more and more recession-minded consumers expected to stay home for their annual feast, April 12, movement of holiday favorites could be brisk.

Strawberries

When Easter falls in April instead of March, abundant strawberry volumes are pretty much a given, even if Mother Nature doesn’t cooperate in one growing area, said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant Inc., Watsonville.

Atomic Torosian, managing partner in Crown Jewels Marketing & Distribution LLC, Fresno, Calif., agreed.

“California will be hitting on all cylinders,” he said. “It’s a great time to promote.”

Another advantage, Jewell said, is that Easter promotions can ride the coattails of the company’s annual sweepstakes promotion, which runs from April 1 through the end of the July.

The later Easter falls, Jewell said, the more consumers are likely to be in a warm weather mindset — always a plus for berry sales.

Many retail strawberry promotions could extend past Easter and right on up to Mother’s Day, given the early Easter this year, Jewell said.

“Promoting all the way through is a great way to build momentum,” she said.

Strawberries could get a boost at Easter because of the economic downturn, Torosian said.

“Retailers are seeing spikes because of that,” he said. “People are cocooning, not going out as much. It’s a plus for our industry.”

On March 3 the USDA reported prices of $13.90-14.90 for flats of 12 1-pint baskets of medium and large strawberries from California, down from $16.90 last year at the same time.

Asparagus

Timely rains in the San Joaquin Valley in late February and early March boded well for high sugar levels in asparagus slated for Easter, said Tom Tjerandsen, marketing consultant for the California Asparagus Commission, Holtville.

Abundant volumes in a variety of sizes should be available for holiday promotions, Tjerandsen said.

“Growers should be able to ship a full range of sizes, and retailers are recognizing that shoppers like that variety — pencil-thin for salads, jumbos for grilling and everything in between,” he said.

Tjerandsen recommends that retailers promote asparagus in end caps with pineapples, sweet potatoes, onions and green beans.

With more holiday meals being enjoyed at home because of the recession, Easter could provide a better spike than usual for traditional fare like asparagus, Tjerandsen said.

Because of light volumes toward the end of the Mexican asparagus deal, California enjoyed “relatively decent” opening markets, which Tjerandsen said could bode well for the season.

On March 3, the USDA reported a price of $30.75 for 28-pound cartons and crates of bunched large green asparagus from Mexico, up from $26.75-28.75 last year at the same time.

Sweet potatoes

Thanks to a short crop out of Louisiana, sweet potato supplies will likely tighten later in the spring, but there should be plenty on hand for the holiday promotions, said George Wooten, owner of Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co., Chadbourn, N.C.

And it won’t just be bulk.

“There are a lot of options if retailers choose to run specials — consumers bags, microwaveable, 10-pound boxes,” Wooten said.

Wooten said a mix of sizes are available sweet potato promotions this year.

Movement of sweet potatoes from North Carolina is up over last year, which could be reflected in stronger markets as Easter nears, Wooten said.

“The market in North Carolina has gone up $1 the first week in March, and I see it strengthening some more in the latter part of March or early April,” he said.

On March 3, the USDA reported prices of $15-16 for 40-pound cartons of U.S. No. 1 sweet potatoes from North Carolina, comparable to last year at the same time.

Recession could boost sales of Easter staples
Pamela Riemenschneider