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California heading for record year; sunshine accelerating European season


There has been a long hot summer in Europe and the consequences for the strawberry market are very clear. The fruit ripens quickly, the sizes are small and the shelf life is limited. There has also been limited demand due to the summer holidays, so the situation for growers and traders has not been ideal. The result is easy to guess: an early end of the season in the Netherlands and Belgium. In other countries, there are concerns about taste (France) or labour (United States). This is an overview of the global situation in the strawberry market.

Record year for California
Temperatures in the Central Coast of California have become slightly milder in recent weeks and this has made the conditions ideal for strawberry growers. This year, thanks to the early frost in spring, has been a record year for the growers in the State.

Although the quality and yield are good, the market is erratic. In recent weeks, the market has shown a more stable picture. The demand is expected to improve again in the run-up to the Labor Day holiday in September, when prices are expected to rise. The season lasts until October, depending on the region. The biggest challenge for the growers is finding labourers. It is difficult to find sufficient pickers, so not all the fruit can be harvested.

The Netherlands: Strawberries warmed by the heat
The recent period of heat has had major consequences for the strawberry market. Open ground growers have suffered a lot of problems because of the quick ripening of the strawberries, as the fruit did not have the time to grow. Their strawberries are smaller and there are fewer kilos available. The heat did not do any good to the quality of the strawberries, either. The strawberries are softer, have a dull look and a shorter shelf life. All this has resulted in poor market prices. Moreover, the holiday period hasn't helped and not many strawberries are sold in the supermarkets. Traders say that although the production was smaller, there was still an oversupply. Those strawberries have gone to the processing industry.

The prices of strawberries have risen slightly in the last few days. The prospect now is that there will be fewer strawberries later in August and in September, because growers are harvesting so much earlier. Some growers of greenhouse strawberries are now responding to this by planting earlier, so hopefully the shortage will not be too great.

France: Shock about poor quality perception
France was shocked this week by the news that only 32% of French consumers are satisfied with the taste of supermarket strawberries. The Spanish and French productions scored almost as low in this study, even though French strawberries are almost twice as expensive.

A strawberry grower says that the French season is practically finished. He has actually not had anything for a couple of months. It has been a season with ups and downs, as can be read in the report from the Ministry of Agriculture. The season kicked off with good prizes, but it started late because of the bad weather. The rain took a toll on the harvest and also caused the consumption to be limited. Due to the low sales, prices fell considerably in April and May. Only at the end of April was there good weather and both consumption and prices increased.

Prices dropped again in June. Eventually, they stood at 7% above the 2013-2017 average. The total production amounted to 57,450 tonnes, which is similar to the figures achieved in previous years.

German strawberries dominate
German strawberries still dominate the domestic (wholesale) market. Traders even speak of a monopoly. Only in the Frankfurter wholesale market were there some strawberries from the Netherlands, Belgium and Poland. However, the heat has had a negative impact on the product quality, which is currently variable. Traders confirm that the average shelf life of the fruit is difficult to estimate; consequently, strawberries are not particularly popular in the market.

Even when setting the price, (large) wholesalers must currently be ready to compromise. In the most extreme cases, prices have reached absolute rock-bottom levels, with just 0.50 Euro paid per 500 gram. Nevertheless, batches of reasonable quality have reached prices of around 2.20 Euro. The few Polish strawberries available in the German market were slightly more expensive, with around 2.80 Euro per 500 gram.

Belgium: Supply down after difficult season
This week, the prices for strawberries are quite high because the supply has also dropped somewhat. The prices for a pound of strawberries fluctuate between € 3.10 and € 3.30, while last week the prices oscillated between € 2.50 and € 2.70. According to a trader, they have had a hard time this strawberry season. Almost all fruits, including strawberries, have suffered the impact of the dry weather and the heat. The supply has not been disappointing, but the strawberries have suffered from quality problems and there have been many more complaints than in previous years because of this.

Spain: Cooperatives aim for year-round cultivation
The season in Huelva, the largest Spanish strawberry producer, came to a close in June. Currently, smaller volumes are being harvested in the north of Spain. In the past two to three years, some of the largest cooperatives in Huelva have tested the crop's cultivation in Avila, a northern region with similar conditions as in Huelva and a milder summer. The results so far are good and the acreage is gradually expanding. The production is limited because it is intended for the domestic market. The harvest in that region goes on from June to December, allowing the companies to offer strawberries year-round.

According to Freshhuelva's figures, the harvest in 2017/2018 amounts to 280,300 tonnes, which is 8% less than in the previous season. This decline happened despite the acreage being 9% larger. The turnover was also lower (-4%), reaching about 437 million Euro. The average price, however, was 4% higher.

In the first quarter of the year, the strawberry volume harvested dropped by about 20%, mainly due to the cold weather in January and February and the rainy period that started after that and lasted until March. In April, the results were again comparable to those of the previous year, but a larger volume was devoted to exports. In May, the market shrank quickly due to the rising temperatures and competition from other European countries (France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Germany or Belgium). As a result of these factors, the season ended in June. In summary, the first half was difficult due to the weather conditions, but the second half was more positive.

Israel closes good season
The season is practically over. The growers have had a good year. The mild weather during the growing season, in combination with a larger acreage, have resulted in a relatively higher yield in most growing regions in the country. The plantations can mainly be found in the coastal areas.

The per capita consumption of strawberries is 4 kilos higher than in most other OECD countries. The season runs from spring to early summer, so there is room for imports during much of the year. China and the Netherlands are the main suppliers of these strawberries, and there are also some European countries that export to Israel. Given the unusually warm weather in Europe, it is possible that the supply in Israel may also be affected, although it is still too early to assess the extent of the impact.

Peru sees exports rising
Exports between January and April were considerably higher this year than in the same period a year earlier. Last year, 1.5 million kilos of strawberries were exported, generating 2.6 million dollars. This year, the exported volume amounts to almost 3.3 million kilos worth 5.9 million dollars FOB. The figures from Agrodata Peru show that most of the strawberries were shipped to the US. Almost 1.3 million dollars in turnover were generated in this market. Next in the ranking are Canada (1.2 million dollars), South Korea (746,000 dollars), Japan (666,000 dollars), the Netherlands (497,000 dollars) and Puerto Rico (118,000 dollars).

China: Import tariffs will change the market
The strawberry harvest has been completed. Chinese companies are switching to the import of frozen strawberries. A share of those imports comes from the US, although that trade flow may change in the near future. This week, the Chinese government applied import tariffs of between 5% and 25% on imports from the US. These new rates apply from 23 August. With this, China responds to the decision of the United States to set import tariffs on Chinese fruit and vegetables. Strawberries fall under the high rate of 25%, so both the Chinese and the US strawberry markets will be affected. The extent of the impact of the trade war remains unclear. The market for strawberries is growing by about 9% annually.

Australia is aiming for export growth
Over the next ten years, the sector will be focusing its efforts on exports. With the Strategic Investment Plan, the sector hopes that the production will grow by between 4% and 8%. The country exports more strawberries than it imports, but at present, the sector is faced with trade barriers. Not every market is open to the exporters, but the issue is being addressed. The focus for the coming years is on Macau, New Zealand, Thailand and Malaysia.

Strawberries have two seasons in Australia: summer in the south and winter in the north, with production in Queensland and Western Australia. The retail price in recent weeks has stood between 1 and 2 dollars for 250 grams of local strawberries. This is the result of a large supply of the fruit. The growing conditions have been good, with little rain. This also increases the demand for "pick your own" strawberries.

In the campaign ending in June 2017, the production has amounted to 91,083 tonnes. Of this, 13% was supplied to the processing industry. Exports amounted to 3,881 tonnes, which illustrates the annual growth trend. Singapore is the biggest destination. 

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