Strawberry markets were strong in mid-July, but Jim Grabowski, merchandising manager for Well-Pict Inc., says prices likely will dip as competition increases from summer fruits like cherries, stone fruit and melons. ( Photo courtesy Well-Pict Inc. )

California strawberry production is down a bit from last year, blueberries should be plentiful and raspberry and blackberry supplies are on track, grower-shippers say.

Quality of all berries should continue to be exceptional.

Strawberries 

Rain during the winter and spring followed by a heatwave the second week of June had California strawberry volume running below last year’s numbers, said Jim Grabowski, merchandising manager for Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville, Calif.

As of July 6, the state’s growers had produced just over 105 million trays, according to the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission. Last year at that time they had shipped 121.4 million trays.

“We’re down a little bit as far as production numbers right now,” Grabowski said in mid-July.

The tighter market led to higher prices.

F.o.b. prices for trays of eight 1-pound clamshell containers of medium-sized strawberries from Watsonville/Salinas were mostly $12 in mid-July, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. A year earlier, they were mostly $9 to $10. 

But strawberries face tough competition from summer fruits like cherries, stone fruit and melons, Grabowski pointed out.

“Summer is always a struggle for strawberries in terms of shelf space,” he said. “I don’t think the high prices are going to stay this way all through the summer.”

Blueberries 

There should be no shortage of blueberries for at least the next couple of months, said Luciano Fiszman, blueberry category manager for Gourmet Trading Co., Los Angeles.

That’s because volume from Peru is expected to be up about 50% over last year, he said, and the fruit seems to be a little earlier than in years past.

“Peru is going to put an interesting pressure on domestic growers,” he said.

Fiszman expected the blueberry market to have “decent volume” throughout August and September compared to last season.

“Retailers are going to be able to keep fresh blueberries on their shelves,” he said. “I don’t foresee a gap between domestic and the offshore deal.”

Major suppliers of blueberries during the summer are Michigan, Oregon, Washington and British Columbia, he said, and all areas seem to have good crops this season.

“It will be a challenge” for domestic growers, Fiszman said.

It’s difficult to predict blueberry prices because, even though volume may up from last year, demand and consumption are on the rise as well.

“This transition is going to be different than any year in the past,” Fiszman said.

In mid-July, f.o.b. prices for trays of 12 1-pint containers of blueberries from Oregon and Washington were mostly $14-16, according to the USDA.

Added volume from Peru, which ships fruit to the U.S. from August to January or February, could allow for more stable prices in the future, he said, and allow retailers to promote the fruit more often.

Bush berries

The hot spell in June did not have as severe an impact on raspberries as it did on strawberries, Grabowski said.

The raspberry crop was looking good in mid-July and that should continue into mid-November out of Watsonville, he said.

The harvest will transition to Oxnard, Calif., and the company next will source out of Mexico during the winter.

Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms also sources raspberries from California until late September or early October and then shifts to Mexico, said Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing.

Sourcing from two regions allows for year-round availability, she said.

Growing weather has been “not too hot or not too cold,” she said, and quality has been good.

Summer is peak growing time for raspberries and blackberries, Jewell said.

Demand has been “pretty strong” for both, and prices have been good, she said.

F.o.b. prices for trays of 12 6-ounce containers of raspberries from Watsonville were mostly $17-18 in mid-July.

F.o.b. prices for trays of 12 6-ounce containers of blackberries from Watsonville were mostly $18. 

 
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