Retailers can’t wait for strawberry season to start.

Most produce managers say the fruit ranks among their five or 10 bestselling items during peak season in late spring and summer.

At upscale Big John’s Market in Healdsburg, Calif., about an hour’s drive north of San Francisco, produce manager John Pardini said strawberries are a top-selling item starting in May and continuing until volume starts to taper off.

“I carry strawberries all year long, basically,” he said, but he features them on ad every other week or at least every three weeks during the spring and summer.

Sales rise up to 30% when strawberries are on sale, he said.

During peak season, he builds a 3- by 3-foot display that is loaded with strawberries.

“We stack them quite high,” he said.

Pardini cross-merchandises the berries with whipped cream, chocolate dip mix, strawberry glaze and pound cakes or angel food cakes.

Which brands he buys depends on pricing and quality.

“We always look for the best quality,” Pardini said.

Since Big John’s is a relatively small store, there’s not a lot of room for point-of-sale materials, but Pardini said he might display a small banner promoting strawberries if a supplier provided one.

Abingdon, Va.-based K-VA-T Stores Inc. starts the year shipping strawberries from Florida and then switches to California, said Mike Tipton, director of produce and floral for the 106 stores that operate under the Food City and Super Dollar banners.

Saleswise, strawberries rank among the top five produce items during peak season, and K-VA-T stores usually display the fruit in 4- by 4-foot refrigerated cases as well as in stand-alone refrigerated cases.

Produce managers often set up large refrigerated end caps at the entrance to the produce department that are separate from the regular 4- by 4-foot wall case display, where they merchandise strawberries with other berries.

During the spring and summer, strawberries are a feature ad item at least once a month, and they may be a line item more often than that, Tipton said.

Stores cross merchandise strawberries with dessert shells, whipped topping, strawberry glazes and chocolate dip.

Terry Manns, produce manager at the upscale Casey’s Foods, Naperville, Ill., said his customers prefer the highest-quality Driscoll’s brand strawberries in 1-pound clamshell containers.

“The nicer, riper ones cost more money,” he said, “but you get what you pay for.”

The store doesn’t feature strawberries on ad but sometimes offers them as an in-store special, perhaps selling a regular $2.99 clamshell for $1.99.

Casey’s Foods merchandises strawberries in a display up to 3.5 feet by 4 feet and cross merchandises them with Hostess cakes and whipped cream.

Valentine’s Day is a big strawberry occasion, and Manns was hopeful that supplies would be ample so he can offer berries at a reasonable price this year.

Because of bad weather in California and Florida, prices in late January were “astronomical,” he said — $6.99 per 1-pound clamshell.

Although shippers say they’re selling more 2- and 4-pound clamshells, it seems some retailers prefer to stick with the traditional 1-pound package.

Casey’s Foods does not carry 2- or 4-pounders, Manns said.

“(Customers) usually prefer the 1-pounders,” he said.

Though Big John’s has not yet pushed multi-pound packs, Pardini said he might try some this season.
“We do very well with the 1-pounders,” he said.

The 1-pound container is the most convenient and bestselling package at K-VA-T stores, Tipton said, but the company also offers 2- and 4-pounders, especially when strawberries are on ad.

“The 2- and the 4-pounders do really well on promotion,” he said.