Easter, on March 31 this year, and Valentine’s Day, which just past, are two big holidays for Southern California strawberry grower-shippers.

Easter will be a week earlier this year than last year, said David Cook, sales manager of Deardorff Family Farms, Oxnard, Calif.

That will leave the entire month of April between Easter and Mother’s Day.

“Last year, we went through Easter, and demand was very good — red hot,” he said.

The company experienced strong sales for three weeks after Easter, Cook said. But the market started to drop when Santa Maria started shipping, and Deardorff pulled out of the deal for the season.

“It’s difficult to make it through Mother’s Day here,” he said. “We concentrate on the early end of the deal.”

Mother’s Day, the second Sunday in May, and Memorial Day in late May are for “Santa Maria and the late guys around here,” Cook said.

There should be enough berries for Easter, he said.

“It won’t be as good as it could be, but there will be some berries — barring any weird weather.”

Matt Kawamura, partner in Orange County Produce, Irvine, Calif., expects big sales spikes for Easter.

“Everybody still wants to promote,” he said.

More West Coast fruit should be available for Easter, said Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard. How much will depend on the weather.

“Easter is a great way to get strawberries into the retail produce department in a primary location,” said Cindy Jewell, marketing director for California Giant Inc., Watsonville.

The hope is that supermarkets will use the occasion as a “launching point,” she said, and keep them on display throughout the season.

“Our challenge, year in and year out, is to try to keep the focus on the whole season, and not just on holiday spikes,” Jewell said.

The industry needs to promote during peak season, she said, not just for holidays.

Kawamura was optimistic that will increasingly be the case.

“People are tending to want berries year-round,” he said.

“You still have the holiday spikes, but in general, berries are becoming a year-round item, and all the stores tell us they would like to have them year-round,” he said. “That’s a good thing.”

Suppliers — and retailers — were scrambling to come up with enough strawberries to fill their commitments for Valentine’s Day this year.

“There’s not enough fruit now,” Kawamura said the week before the holiday.

A winter freeze caused more damage than growers first thought, and a lot of crooked fruit had to be thrown out.

Strawberries could continue to ship out of Florida into late March, and possibly until Easter, Widerburg said.

Promotions could depend on pricing.

If prices drop to $10-12 per tray, retailers likely will promote at more aggressive prices, he said.

By Easter, he said, wet weather still could be in store, but weather should be somewhat warmer.