Strawberry shippers gear up for Easter - The Packer

Strawberry shippers gear up for Easter

02/12/2010 01:27:00 PM
Tom Burfield

Easter is April 4 this year — earlier than last year but later than the year before.

Grower-shippers have mixed feelings about whether a late or early Easter is better.

“There are pros and cons to both,” said Russ Widerburg, sales manager for Boskovich Farms Inc., Oxnard, Calif.

With an early Easter, there’s not as big a gap between Valentine’s Day, St. Patrick’s Day and the Easter holiday, he said, and it’s easier to maintain promotions between those occasions.

“But if you have an early Easter, you have a larger gap between Easter and Mother’s Day,” he said.

“The shorter distance you have between promotional periods, the more beneficial it is for the strawberry marketers to get their promotions in line and keep the fruit moving during nonpromotional times,” Widerburg said.

It’s hard to say whether a late or early Easter is better, said David Cook, sales manager for Deardorff Family Farms in Oxnard.

With Easter falling the first weekend of April, the industry will have to ramp up volume starting in early March, he said. Then there will more than a month between Easter and the next big strawberry occasion, Mother’s Day.

But any promotional plans during the late winter and early spring can be dashed if rain or cold weather blows in, he said.

In the end, whether Easter is early or late, Cook said, “You just deal with it.”

Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant Inc., Watsonville, believes in the “Easter karma.”

“It doesn’t really matter when Easter is, it’s always going to rain the week before,” she said.

California Giant tries to persuade customers to focus on the peak of the berry season, not when the holiday falls.

“(Buyers) all want berries for Easter, and then nobody wants them the week after,” Jewell said.

But even good weather in California does not guarantee strong Easter sales, she said. That’s because consumers still may be enduring blustery weather in the East or Midwest during the early spring and may not be thinking strawberries.

“They’re still digging out of snow,” Jewell said. “It’s not just the shipping market — it’s the receiving market that plays into that.”

Craig Casca, director of sales for Red Blossom Farms, Santa Ynez, Calif., was optimistic in early January that ample supplies of strawberries will be available this Easter because of the freeze that hit Florida early this year.

It could be several weeks into February for Florida to come back after the January freeze, he said, but, “When they do regenerate, they’re going to come back very strong.”

That could be perfect timing for Easter if weather holds in Southern California and the freezes dissipate in Florida.

“Easter could be a time when we’re not scrambling for berries,” he said. “Maybe supply will meet the demand this year.”

That could bring an opportunity for growers to move their crop at prices that are good for farmers and also meet the demand of customers, which is not typically the case at Easter, he said.

That’s the way things were shaping up in January, but he admitted that it was too soon to tell how Easter supplies will end up.

Cook agreed that Florida could see good strawberry volume after the freezes, much like California growers see after a frost hits the plants.

“The plants come back and rain strawberries,” he said.

Whatever happens in California or Florida, Cook expects to see good demand for strawberries by March.

“People are going to want berries,” he said.



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