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US Berry supplier Driscoll's worries market 'just is not there'

As Berry supplier Driscoll's is getting ready for its peak season, the family-owned company is gearing up for a bumper crop with a record supply of California strawberries and a plentiful amount of blueberries.

But while much of the annual harvest is often routine, the presence of the coronavirus this year has upended much of that dance, forcing Driscoll's to shorten the period during which farmers supply it berries, change how the produce gets shipped to stores and how it's displayed once it arrives. Driscoll's ​accounts for roughly a third of the North American berry market, but demand for its perishable produce in the U.S. has dropped by about 20%.

"We haven't plowed a crop under yet and hopefully we won’t have to do that at all. But we are also having to cap the amount of production we're taking in because there’s not enough of a market," Soren Bjorn, president of global berry brand Driscoll’s, told Food Dive. "You can't just keep pushing the product to the market that just is not there."

With demand for its berries from restaurants, schools, hotels and corporate catering functions sharply lower, Driscoll’s has turned to retail to pick up the lost demand — a channel that is riddled with its own challenges.

Retailers have struggled to get its berries through the supply chain, leaving some of Driscoll’s​ product displays — used to spur impulse buys as consumers enter the store — smaller than usual. Other stores were simply too busy to set up the usual large display as they scrambled to keep shelves stocked.

Bjorn said March sales for Driscoll's were strong, especially in the last two weeks of the month as the company benefited from a broader consumer push to stock up. But early April saw demand slide before starting to recover again — a trend not uncommon throughout the food space. Bjorn expects revenue to fall about 15% to 20% in April. He remains optimistic sales will pick up this month as the market stabilizes and retailers, who sell a lot of berries in May and June, look to cash in on the lucrative window.

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