California strawberries may score another record

07/27/2009 10:14:53 AM
Don Schrack

The California strawberry harvest continues on track for another record volume.

Grower-shippers harvested 15 million more trays during the first half of the year than they did during the same period last year, said Chris Christian, vice president of marketing for the California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville.

The second half of the year appears as if it will be equally productive, grower-shippers said.

The record volume is generating record sales, and grower-shippers give much of the credit to their customers.

“We’re getting great support from retailers this year for the whole category,” said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for California Giant Inc., Watsonville.

One concept that has met with retail success is an end-table display — known as berry patch — that features several berry varieties, said Dan Crowley, sales manager for Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville.

 

On-pack coupons

Innovative merchandising on the part of grower-shippers also has helped to boost movement. Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC is wrapping up its third on-pack coupon program, said Robert Verloop, senior vice president of sales and marketing.

The national retailer-specific campaign began in May. Naturipe offered a discount on its blueberries when a shopper purchased a box of Ziploc storage bags, he said. The second phase of the program offered a discount on Naturipe strawberries with a Ziploc purchase.

The final phase began in late July, Verloop said, and weds two Naturipe products. Consumers get a discount on blueberries with the purchase of Naturipe strawberries. 

“The program has been so successful that we already have commitments for next year,” Verloop said. “We plan to expand the on-pack coupon program.”

Variety bridges supply gap

It was Well-Pict’s plant breeders who were able to come up with new proprietary varieties of raspberries that have given the variety a nice boost.

“Traditionally our raspberry fields produced very well in May-June and again in August-September, but there was a large gap in July,” Crowley said.

After field trials, the company planted the new varieties in microclimates that transformed the July raspberry gap into a slight dip, he said, and the August-September peak now continues into October.

Halo effect

What may be surprising about the record volume and sales of California strawberries is that other varieties also are doing well. It is not a surprise to Jewell.

“I think people who like berries just eat more of them if there’s greater availability and good quality and flavor,” she said.

Naturipe’s research supports that opinion, Verloop said. The findings indicate that shoppers who buy strawberries also are buying other berries, he said.

“We see the reason people eat strawberries is different from the reason they eat raspberries or blackberries or blueberries,” Verloop said, “and each has different applications in culinary use.”

The domestic harvest of blackberries at California Giant will begin to wind down in August, Jewell said, but the company will then bring in blackberries from Mexico.

California Giant is planning a late September blueberry promotion featuring Canadian-grown fruit. Details of the promotion were to be finalized in late July, Jewell said.

Well-Pict will be helping to increase the state’s late-season strawberry production when it ramps up what the industry calls the Southern California fall harvest in the Oxnard region. To mark the fifth year of the fall Oxnard program, the Well-Pict has added two of its propriety varieties for a total of three strawberry varieties, Crowley said.

“That harvest will begin near the end of September and continue through November,” he said.

Two Oxnard based grower-shippers, Deardorff Family Farms and Boskovich Farms, have strong spring deals but do not have fall programs. However, the Boskovich Farms’ plantings that are targeted to begin producing early next year likely will offer limited supplies in late fall, said Russ Widerburg, sales manager.

Deardorff Family Farms does not anticipate fall supplies, said David Cook, sales manager, but the company will have promotable volume beginning in January.

Consistent programs

The challenge for grower-shippers of some berry varieties is building consistent programs.

“The ups and downs of the weather and how that impacts a retailer’s ability to promote the fruit is challenging,” Verloop said.

Helping both sides jump that hurdle, he said, is grower-shippers who are getting better at providing strategic information to retailers about the crops. Some retailers are asking for updates on all the berry crops much more frequently than they did just two or three years ago, Verloop said. Their sensitivity as to what affects the berry production side and how it affects their promotional and on-shelf displays is growing, he said.

That the California strawberry industry seems to set a new record for volume nearly every year may tend to diminish the significance of this year’s new mark. To put it in perspective, Crowley said, the industry could count on one hand the number of a 6 million-tray weeks it had enjoyed over the past decade. This year, grower-shippers have recorded 15 consecutive 6 million-tray weeks, he said, and one was a 7 million-tray week.

“It’s been a real good year for the growers, retailers and obviously great value for the consumer,” Jewell said.



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