Overview of strawberries from California in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on July 25, 2023.
Strawberry grower-shippers say buyers can expect plenty of good-quality strawberries from California through summer and into fall despite an inauspicious start to the season.
The Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission reported that, as of the week ending July 8, the state’s growers had produced about 109 million trays of strawberries this season, down from last year’s 128 million trays to date because of a slow start caused by cool weather and an unusually wet winter and spring.
Prices on trays of eight 1-pound clamshells out of Watsonville were mostly $8 on July 10, about the same as last year, according to USDA.
“It was one of the worst starts we’ve had in a long time,” said Cindy Jewell, who handles marketing for Oxnard, Calif.-based Bobalu Berries.
The good news is that conditions improved significantly as the season progressed.
“We were able to harvest much longer than we usually do in Oxnard,” she said. “Historically, that district is done by Mother’s Day. This year, we were able to ship fresh fruit all the way through Memorial Day.”
By July, weekly strawberry shipments were comparable to last year’s numbers, Jewell said. But she added that it’s unlikely that total volume for the season will equal last year’s.
“I’d be surprised if [it] did,” she said.
Volume at Visalia, Calif.-based Seven Seas, part of St. Louis-based Tom Lange Co. Inc., should be up slightly this summer, said Brent Scattini, vice president, West Coast.
“It has been a very unusual season,” he said. “Early rains followed by lower-than-normal temperatures have kept things moving slowly.”
The unusual weather did not impact quality, he said, “but it has seriously affected timing and peaks.”
The company produces late-summer and early-fall strawberry crops in Santa Maria, Calif., and Lompoc, Calif., and transitions to Mexico in November for year-round production.
“The berries we are currently harvesting on our fall-planted fields are beautiful,” he said in early July. “We have great size and color, and they are firm and sweet.”
Irvine, Calif.-based Gem-Pack Berries LLC, which recently partnered with Watsonville-based Well-Pict Berries, grows most of its late-summer strawberries in Watsonville, with some fruit coming from Santa Maria, said Michelle Deleissegues, vice president of marketing for Gem-Pack. A fall crop is scheduled for the Oxnard district.
“Quality has been mostly good with especially good size and flavor,” she said in early July. “But the wet, foggy mornings and lack of direct sunlight for most of June was challenging.”
Weather continued to be cloudier and damper than usual for late spring and early summer, but she said berries “are shipping strongly, and quality has been good.”
Gem-Pack offers strawberries year-round, with volume tapering off in late fall in the northern district just as Oxnard and central Mexico start to pick up, she said. Florida and Irvine join the mix in early winter.
Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms LLC will have summer strawberries from the Watsonville/Salinas area and will transition in the fall to its Santa Maria and Oxnard farms, said Jerry Moran, vice president of sales.
“Strawberries will be in good supply this summer, as we have very healthy plants from all of the winter/spring rains,” Moran said. “Expect promotable strawberry supplies right through the summer months into the fall.”
The mild summer weather from California’s Central Coast resulted in great quality and size, he said, adding that the “flavor of our strawberries is outstanding as well.”
Inflation and rising input costs have posed a challenge for strawberry grower-shippers, but they said supermarket sales remain strong.
“I think strawberries are one of those things that people buy on a regular basis,” said Jewell of Bobalu Berries. “It’s definitely an everyday fruit that people put in their basket faithfully.”
Gem-Pack’s Deleissegues agreed.
“Berries are an everyday item for most shoppers,” she said. “We have had some weeks where demand slowed unexpectedly, but overall demand has been strong and not been affected when looking over the entire season/year.”
But the industry has felt the pain of inflation.
“Costs continue to rise, making farming very challenging,” said Scattini of Seven Seas. “Unfortunately, I do not see a future shift downward. It’s going to force us all to operate on very thin margins.”
The News in Charts is a collection of stories from the industry complemented by charts from Agronometrics to help better tell their story.
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