Strawberry volume ramping up for Valentine’s Day promotions

From The Produce News | 29 January 2024

Overview of strawberries in the U.S. market, complemented by charts from Agronometrics. Original published on January 26, 2024.

While rain has recently fallen in all three significant North America strawberry-producing regions, enough volume is expected for the always-popular Valentine’s Day promotions.

Both Mexico and Florida are heading toward their peak shipping weeks, and California’s volume continues to increase. There has been significant rainfall in the Golden State, but there have also been days of drying out weather in between allowing fruit to be picked, packed and shipped.

Florida is ramping up to its peak shipping period, which should run from mid-February through the end of the month.  Mexico is entering its peak period and will continue to have solid volume through March and into April.  California’s strawberry shipments typically peak in the late April to early June time frame when weekly shipments can top 8 million trays, but volume is already climbing and well beyond where it was a year ago during California’s rain-soaked January of 2023.

The rain storms of 2023 were characterized as atmospheric rivers and seemingly went on for weeks on end.  This year’s rains, which are always expected in the winter months, have been mostly lighter in the strawberry production areas of Oxnard and Santa Maria. Of course, San Diego County made the national news this week (Jan. 22) with the most rainfall ever recorded in one day. But San Diego County is no longer a strawberry-production region as farmland farther up the coast (Oxnard and Santa Maria) has taken over the bulk of acreage in winter/spring production over the past two decades.

strawberry volumes by or 2

Source: USDA Market News via Agronometrics.
(Agronometrics users can view this chart with live updates here)

Early 2024 production reports from the California Strawberry Commission bear that out. For the week ending January 20, California had sent a bit more than 2 million trays to market with only 32,400 of them coming from the district composing of San Diego County, Orange County and the Coachella Valley. By contract, Oxnard had produced 1.75 million of those flats with Santa Maria checking in with about 280,000. Santa Maria growers are just starting to pick with most expected to be in the deal by the first week of February.

By a similar date in 2023, California had sent less than 330,000 flats to market. Florida is running a bit above last year’s pace with about 3.4 million cartons compared to 3.2 million in 2023. Mexico and its Baja California production has seen some declines this season. Mexico has currently shipped less than 6 million flats to market compared to almost 7 million at the same time in 2023.

As a point of reference, both Mexico and Florida have shipped about 10 percent of their total expected volume while California’s 2 million trays hardly register a blip on what will be its final number. When the sun sets on this season, California will have sent around 220 million packages to market compared to about 66 million from Mexico and 33 million from Florida.

Weighing in on the 2024 season were officials from Bobalu Berry Farms in Oxnard.  The partners at the operation reviewed how the crop looks today compared to the very unsettled beginning at this same time last year. They reported that January has been much more forgiving in 2024 than 2023. They noted the plants are healthy, staying somewhat dry, and providing excellent fruit.

“While this is all very good news for our strawberries, the challenge we are facing now is the inclement weather in our receiving markets,” said Vice President of Sales Anthony Gallino.  “When you can’t get trucks to the East Coast due to blizzard conditions and flooding rain, that affects all of us.”

Commenting on the upcoming holiday, Gallino reported: “The fruit from our ranches here in Oxnard and from our partner fields in Mexico is excellent right now and we are ramping up for the Valentine’s Day demand.”

He added that the company expects to have promotable volume including stem berries, for the upcoming holiday.

The California Strawberry Commission released its initial 2024 acreage survey in December revealing that almost 41,000 acres of strawberries are expected to be in production this year, including 9,644 that will be planted in the summer for fall production. In the fall of 2023, growers planted 31,221 acres, which represents a 4.5 percent increase over last year and the largest number of fall acres planted since 2015. Acreage expected to be planted in the summer is down about 7 percent but a summer survey by CSC will confirm that number.

In its release of the acreage survey, CSC noted that yield per acre has been declining for the past few years impacting farmgate revenues as production costs continue to rise. CSC also noted that demand continues to increase. “California production is positioned to continue driving increased category growth at retail in Q2 and Q3 during 2024,” said the report. “Strawberry pound sales grew by 2.8 percent during the third quarter of 2023 compared to 2022.”

The report also claims that strawberries are the second most valuable fruit category in U.S. supermarkets with $4 billion in sales. The report revealed that total organic acreage reported for 2024 is 4,380, a bit lower than last year and representing about 12 percent of total acreage.

“The 2024 season is under way, and so far strawberry production and quality is excellent. Although it’s very early, all signs are pointing toward a great season ahead,” said Jeff Cardinale, director of communications for the California Strawberry Commission.

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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