Queensland Strawberry Growers' Association is undertaking a large scale marketing campaign this season to encourage consumers to add the fruit to their weekly shopping basket as a household staple fruit.
It follows a challenging year in 2018 where a very small number of strawberries were deliberately tampered with, leading to police charges - but the resulting global publicity had a huge impact on growers and the whole industry. President Luigi Coco says the new campaign is being run with the support of the Queensland Government, and started early in the season to promote the availability.
“The most impactful action that any consumer can take to assist strawberry farmers this year and into the future is to be regular purchasers of our wonderful fresh products,” he said. “Our growers appreciate that Australians respect the care and effort that goes into producing great quality, healthy fresh food for their families. Strawberries are all picked and packed by hand under strict quality standards, which makes it an expensive crop to produce and we’d like to thank Australian consumers for continuing to buy the fruit that we proudly produce for their families.”
The marketing activities include advertising near to the point of sale in shopping centres in Sydney and Melbourne, an outdoor advertising campaign in Brisbane and a large-scale social media and traditional PR activation all supporting the creative concept that strawberries "make every day Strawesome".
“The creative work is the brainchild of the same Sydney advertising agency, Elevencom, that gave us the Australian Bananas ‘make your body sing’ campaign,” Mr Coco said. “The campaign also has a number of local initiatives supporting the many events that occur in south east Queensland across the winter period as well as an activation in the best independent grocery outlets around Brisbane from July through to September. Strawberries are naturally low in sugar and are an excellent source of Vitamin C and Folate, so they make a great addition to a healthy diet for any family.”
Mr Coco added that overall the crop size is likely to be below last year in total volume, with the peak of volume still expected to come through August and September.
“Drought conditions in runner plant growing regions caused a late start to the season this year, with runner quality also suffering due to a chronic lack of water,” he said. “Late planting was followed by good rains in late April and early May which gave most plants a running start. Heavy rain in the major growing regions in late June and early July resulted in some crop losses of this early season fruit due to water damage. From the second week of July, conditions have been perfect with warm dry days and coolish nights allowing growers to get excellent quality fruit away to market. Demand has been quite strong, with wholesale prices holding up compared with previous seasons. Excessive cold weather in the southern states does impact on demand as consumers turn to warm foods for comfort. We’re expecting peak volumes to come through in late August and early September when consumers can expect to get high quality fruit for great value.”
It comes as the industry continues to develop on the research and development front, and one of the sub-tropical varieties that has been widely supported this season, according to Mr Coco is Red Rhapsody. The final report for the National Strawberry Varietal Improvement Program (BS12021) described it as a “game-changer”; with excellent and consistent production, a high proportion of premium quality fruit, and traits that have significantly reduced the time to pick and pack fruit, thereby reducing production costs. It also found that flavour is also good and consistent, and supermarket chains have indicated a preference for ‘Red Rhapsody’ fruit.
The Queensland Strawberry Growers' Association added that in Australia, there are lots of varieties that are planted each season, with some providing early fruit and others fruiting later in the season. To support this, an extensive breeding programme is being funded through the national levy and operated by Queensland Department of Agriculture and Fisheries.
“The programme has already developed 12 new varieties for commercial production across the different growing areas nationally; 7 for sub-tropical, 2 for temperate and 3 for Mediterranean,” he said. “In this latest winter growing season where the conditions are sub-tropical, approximately 70 per cent of the runners planted are of these newer varieties with PBR protection.”
Statistics compiled by “World Trade Exports” show that Australia is 15th in terms of strawberry export value. Total strawberry exports in the year to 30 June 2018 were only just over 4,000 tonnes and much of that exported volume was from Western Australia. However, Mr Coco says while it is not a major focus now, there is likely to be a renewed focus on export opportunities in the next few years.
“There have been a number of projects recently exploring export options from Queensland during the winter season and trial shipments have been made to both Indonesia and Hong Kong,” he said. “The events of last season and the impact on growers’ bottom lines have led to a more risk-averse position in this season, with export activities still considered to be high risk.”
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