Promotions on some Easter produce staples could be limited this year because of lower supplies.

Sweet potato volume won’t likely get tight until this summer, but they won’t exactly be abundant for Easter, which falls on April 24 this year, said George Wooten, owner of Chadbourn, N.C.-based Wayne E. Bailey Produce Co.

“It seems like there will be good supplies, but I’m not sure to what degree promotions will be available,” Wooten said.

That said, Easter 2011 will present retailers with tremendous sweet potato promotional opportunities, if they can find the supplies, Wooten said. After Thanksgiving and Christmas/New Year’s, Easter is the third-biggest pull of the year for sweet potato shippers.

Ten-pound bags and boxes and other larger packs will be in high demand. Bailey typically sees better demand for those items than for its individually-wrapped microwaveable spuds and other smaller products.

“Most people are making casseroles and looking for value purchases,” he said.

Wooten expected excellent quality on sweet potatoes shipping for the holiday.

On March 15, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported prices of $16-17 for 40-pound cartons of orange No. 1 sweet potatoes from North Carolina, up from $15-16 last year at the same time.

Asparagus

Asparagus supplies also could be tighter than usual for Easter this year, said James Paul, salesman for Greg Paul Produce, Stockton, Calif., and Altar Produce LLC, Calexico, Calif.

The April supply situation will likely be the exact opposite of the second half of March, when a glut of late product from Mexico was expected to soften markets significantly, Paul said.

By mid-April, when Easter demand picks up, Mexican product should be largely out of the pipeline, with California shouldering most of the load.

Because of high transportation costs, it’s unlikely that Peru will have much product in the U.S. pipeline, Paul said.

“I think there will be a complete change for Easter pull,” he said. “Mexico will be done, and when that takes place there will be a small amount of product, and it will be a demand-exceeds-supply situation very quickly.”

Easter is a natural merchandising opportunity for asparagus, Paul said, and retailers will promote — just not at the levels they’d like.

“Easter and asparagus go hand in hand, but I think it will be difficult to promote at a very aggressive price point,” he said.

Mild growing weather in the Stockton area should yield outstanding quality, with spears likely to be larger than normal, Paul said.

On March 15, the USDA reported prices of $30.75-32.75 for 28-pound cartons of large bunched green asparagus from Mexico, down from $34.75-36.75 last year at the same time.

Strawberries

Easter is slightly later than Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif., would like, said David Cook, sales manager. Deardorff’s volumes will likely peak between March 28 and April 11.

That said, Cook expects ample volumes of high-quality promotable fruit, and strong demand should be there to meet it.

“The weather has been perfect so far,” he said. “It’s the one crop this winter that hasn’t been messed up by too much frost or too much this or that.”

On March 15, the USDA reported prices of $13-14 for flats of 12 one-pint baskets of medium and large strawberries from California, down from $14-16 at the same time.

Artichokes

As of March 14, the USDA had not issued f.o.b.s for artichokes. Unofficial prices for cartons of thorned 12s from central and Southern California and Mexico were $16.45-20.45, 24s received $14.45-20.75, and 30-36s received $12.45-16.97.

Tight supplies may limit Easter promotions

Pamela Riemenschneider