Ample supplies of California strawberries, a late Easter and Mother’s Day should bode well for strong retail sales this spring.
“When there’s a big spring holiday, retailers can be the most effective and have the best sales impact if they plan to promote a week before, the week of and a week after,” said Chris Christian, vice president of marketing for the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission. “They make that sales momentum and maintain it.”
Research conducted by the commission found that retailers who conducted three-week book-end type promotions around holidays saw an average of 12% more strawberry sales than retailers who only promoted one or two of those weeks.
Nationwide, strawberries account for about 4.5% of total annual produce department sales — or about $2.6 billion in 2013 — making them an important item, she said.
They rank eighth in sales among all produce items and fourth among individual fruit — behind apples, bananas and grapes.
Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms Inc., Watsonville, said strawberries are a harbinger of spring, and some retailers like to be the first to market with big displays.
The late Easter also should help continue the holiday momentum into Mother’s Day without major breaks.
“Our goal is always to not just focus on the holidays but focus on that whole time period and try to encourage our partners to build those big displays and leave them there,” she said.
Although demand in the West has been good since the start of the California season, Charlie Staka, sales director for CBS Farms, Watsonville, said he expected pent-up demand as the East begins to thaw.
“As the winter has been very cold and retailers haven’t been able to promote as much as they wanted to do, I think it will be big,” he said.
The short period between Easter and Mother’s Day should prompt heavy promotions from retailers at the same time that all of the state’s production areas are hitting their stride, Staka said.
Louis Ivanovich, a partner with West Lake Fresh, Watsonville, had a slightly different perspective on the late Easter and said it created a challenge to maintain momentum from Valentine’s Day.
“Sometimes they can almost get tired of promotions and they will move to another item in the meantime,” he said.
As the volume picks up, many retailers will come on board with accompanying promotions, especially in the larger-sized clamshells, Ivanovich said.
Mother’s Day is a natural for strawberry promotions, but it also depends on competing fruit, he said.
One of the challenges with year-round strawberry availability is keeping the momentum at the retail level, Ivanovich said. As summer stone fruit and table grapes enter the market, retailers may be inclined to put more energy into promoting the other items because of their newness.
“But we want to be part of that fruit salad,” he said.
Jewell said strawberries are moving from an impulse fruit purchase to a specific item on a shopping list. Consumers also are trying to keep strawberries in the house, trends that are big shifts from only a few years ago.
Strawberries are the strongest member of the profitable berry category, accounting for 49.9% of berry dollar sales and 68.8% of berry pound sales in 2013, according to the commission.
When combined with other berries, the overall berry category is tops in annual produce sales with $5.1 billion.
“It’s a strong category,” Jewell said. “And more and more consumers are shopping the category as a whole.”
That’s where a berry patch concept — displaying strawberries along with other berries — yields sales bumps, Christian said.
“You’re creating a one-stop shop for the consumer,” she said.
Jim Grabowski, marketing director for Watsonville-based Well-Pict Berries, said the concept appears to have caught on.
“I think they generally look to strawberries to be the draw, then get incremental sales from the other berry varieties,” he said.
Promoting strawberries along with another type of berry the same week also helps boost overall category sales, Christian said.
In addition, secondary strawberry displays, such as near the bakery or dairy case, can prompt consumer impulse purchases, she said.
“Make sure your displays are full and you’re allocating the right amount of space to them,” Christian said.