With Mother’s Day, a key holiday associated with strawberries, around the corner, the market is strong on the popular berry.
“Supplies of strawberries are very good in California. The peak is coming in the next two to three weeks and we’ll get some of our biggest picks of the year here in that time,” says Steve Johnston of G.W. Palmer & Co. Inc. in Salinas, CA. “We could be over 1.5 million trays/day here coming up in the next few weeks.”
Like many commodities in California, strawberries did see a delayed harvest start thanks to cooler, sustained temperatures in March. Currently supplies are coming from Oxnard and Santa Maria while Salinas is just getting going now. Meanwhile Baja California is winding down within weeks.
Rain and berries
“The lack of rain over the winter was also a huge factor, especially for strawberries. California strawberries love winter rains,” says Johnston. “We had the third driest history in California and it just inhibits having a really flourishing crop.” Johnston estimates peak numbers this year could be down between 200,000-300,000 cartons a day compared to last year’s peak.
Meanwhile demand is strong for strawberries. “Mother's Day business is terrific. The Thursday before Mother’s Day, I paid $17 for strawberries in Salinas Watsonville,” says Johnston. “Usually the Thursday before Mother’s Day, demand wanes because the stores already have their supplies. The market feels a little weaker but it doesn’t feel drastically weaker yet.”
Johnston feels that strawberries came out of the pandemic strong as a commodity but also wonders what lies ahead. “People bought so many strawberries last year when the grocery store was the only game in town,” he says. “Now with the pandemic easing and people getting back into regular routines, they won’t be spending all their money in the grocery store anymore. How will that reflect in strawberry sales?”
Stronger pricing than 2020
As for pricing, it’s much stronger than last year at this time. Johnston says last year, California shippers and retailers worked to keep the price low on strawberries during the peak. “Every day was a new day and nobody knew how to market it in the pandemic,” he says. That said, factoring in significant spikes in freight rates, strawberries are seeing stronger pricing of $12-$14+. “It’ll be interesting to see with shippers asking for more money, what happens with retailers and how they promote them and how it will affect movement down the road.”
He also adds that in Oxnard, freezer pricing on strawberries is also quite strong. “Last year with the pandemic, people went in and wiped out the frozen berries and now the freezers have to replenish,” he says. “They’re eager to get production going. Pricing is at .70 cents/lb. which is very good.”