Again this year, the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission will call on author and nutrition expert David Grotto to help promote the health benefits of California strawberries, said Chris Christian, vice president of marketing.

Grotto, who also served as a spokesman for the commission in 2009, is planning a five-city media tour from mid-April to mid-June.

Grotto, who discusses the health benefits of strawberries in his new book, 101 Optimal Life Foods, plans to conduct media interviews in Atlanta, Baltimore/Washington, D.C., Chicago, Dallas and New York.

He operates a Chicago-based nutrition consulting firm and has a nutrition-oriented radio show and a Web site — — called David Grotto’s Nutrition Housecall.

On the foodservice side, the commission still was finalizing its promotions for the year in early March and was talking to chains about promoting strawberries on their menus this spring and summer.

“We have continued to see success with more and more strawberry items showing up on chains’ menus,” Christian said.

Chefs are using strawberries in salads so often that they have become one of the fastest-growing menu items containing strawberries, based on the commission’s menu-analysis research.

Representatives from the commission will attend the annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association in Boston in the fall, where the commission will sponsor a scientific session on the health benefits of berries.

“We’ll have two of our strawberry researchers presenting at that session,” Christian said.

No radio advertising is planned for this year.

“We’ll be focusing more on connecting through our Facebook and Twitter sites,” Christian said.

The commission will conduct consumer contests on those sites and will revamp its consumer Web site to “more to directly connect with consumers via social networking and Internet marketing,” she said.

The Web site makeover now is in progress and should be completed by mid-summer.

“We want to make (the site) more friendly for consumers so they can select content and RSS feeds, and so we can connect better with consumers,” Christian said.

The commission is expanding its Twitter and Facebook efforts because women are the heaviest users of social media, and they also are the primary shoppers and tend to make the buying decisions in their households, she said, “especially moms and women with families.”

The commission also will continue to work with food bloggers and will reach out to “mom bloggers,” she said.

The commission plans to target medium- and heavy-strawberry purchasers who buy strawberries nine to 12 times a year.

“We want to get them to buy more frequently,” Christian said.

The commission hopes to accomplish that through consumer media outreach, social media and even iPhone applications.

“Our iPhone application is a good example of how we’re building relationships with food bloggers,” she said. “We are going to continue to do more of that.”

The commission expects to have a refresh of its iPhone application later this year and to have at least one more smart phone application for recipes. The applications and social media sites include usage ideas and health benefit news — both what the commission generates and what the commission picks up through general media and research-monitoring efforts.

The commission is experiencing “a nice, steady climb” among social media followers, said Carolyn O’Donnell, communications director.

In mid-March the organization had about 3,000 Facebook fans and about 1,400 followers on Twitter.