Spring holidays kick off California strawberry surge

03/28/2012 03:00:00 PM
Mike Hornick

SALINAS, Calif. — Demand for California strawberries hits its spring peak with the April 8 arrival of Easter. But supply, while sufficient, is just getting started.

Promotions will be high on grower-shippers’ wish lists.

“We’ve got a strong momentum and market all the way through the holiday,” Doug Lowthorp, salesman for Oxnard-based Deardorff Family Farms, said March 1.

“After Easter, it gets difficult. Then you’ve got five long weeks until Mother’s Day. Southern California will be coming on very strong at that point and you’ll need to do a lot of promoting to keep moving the fruit.”

Michelle Deleissegues, director of marketing for Red Blossom Farms, Los Olivos, wasn’t concerned.

“Supply levels will climb after Easter and Mother’s Day, but that is always peak strawberry season with consumers ready to really escalate their berry purchases,” she said.

Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Oxnard-based Boskovich Farms, said the runup to Easter went better than expected.

“Usually there’s a drop-off post-Valentine’s Day,” he said.

“The market’s held good at $12-14 on the (flats of eight) 1-pound clamshells. It’s a pleasant surprise.”

California had a mild winter. Temperatures were low enough to keep supply in check, but it took no knockout punch from freeze or flood. Yield per acre is up 10% over last year, Widerburg said. Together with solid East Coast demand and tapering Florida supplies, that created a real opportunity for the state’s grower-shippers.

“Strawberries are the only shining light for us and our competition, considering how bad vegetable markets are,” Lowthorp said.

“Celery and leaf lettuces are down to just packing costs.”

Easter supply is coming largely from Oxnard, but Santa Maria, Orange County and Coachella Valley are also participating, said Vinnie Lopes, Salinas-based vice president of sales for Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.

In Watsonville and Salinas, harvesting starts anywhere from the last week of March to the second week of April, depending on which grower you ask. They have mixed feelings about the comparatively dry winter.

“Without rain it could be a good yield, or it could stunt your production a little,” said Charlie Staka, director of sales for Watsonville-based CBS Farms, which represents Beach Street Farms and Colleen Strawberries.

“Weather needs to do something for a market to take hold.”


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