GLOBAL OVERVIEW STRAWBERRIES

The global strawberry market is currently going through some ups and downs, depending on where one looks. During the growing season in Northern Europe, the excellent weather has led to an abundant domestic supply in countries such as the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, and the United Kingdom. The UK even expects to see a 50% larger harvest than last year. However, the traditionally warmer European countries such as Italy and Spain have seen their production volumes affected by poor weather conditions at the start of the growing season. This slower ripening of the berries has meant more fields than usual have ripened at once, which, combined with good domestic supply in the northern markets, has driven prices down significantly. Larger supplies are also expected in South Africa and North America as the weather heats up.

Benelux: Lower consumption and abundant supply of strawberries led to price pressure
At the moment, there are many strawberries available for low prices. Partly because large outdoor productions from several countries are coming on the market at the same time, the middle price has dropped to a low level. "Spanish strawberries have lasted longer than in recent years," according to an industry representative. "Also, in Germany, the open field production has started early. In addition, a lot of strawberries are offered there from Eastern European countries. For example, Greece is currently sending a lot of strawberries that went to Russia in previous years. At the same time, we see that the supply of Spanish strawberries in Scandinavia has lasted longer. This creates extra volumes on this market in combination with the good volumes that are already available in the Netherlands and Belgium due to the nice weather. At the same time, we hear from our domestic retailers that the current economic situation and the high energy prices have reduced the general purchasing power. They see consumers reverting to the basic products in fruit and vegetables, and that is at the expense of our strawberries," says a strawberry seller.

Germany: Ups and downs in supply and demand for strawberries
Local strawberries dominated ahead of Dutch and Italian products. There were only small deliveries from Greece, Belgium, and Spain. The previously complementary unloadings from Portugal have vanished. In general, availability had increased, however, demand could not always keep pace. Particularly at the beginning of the week, it was not possible to clear all the cargo, even though the quality was very good. Concessions had to be made if larger surpluses were to be avoided. Mother's Day then brought new momentum into the business, the clearance accelerated, and the traders were sometimes able to raise the demand again. In some cases, however, not all the supplies could be sold.

In general, growers are complaining about high production costs and relatively cheap imports from southern Europe and the Netherlands in the domestic retail. Meanwhile, they are hoping for better prices in the second half of the season as well as an increase in demand for domestic products.

UK: Growers face labor and transport challenges
It has been a challenging import season for Spanish strawberries in the UK, as there have been multiple challenges through the season.

Firstly, the growing season was tricky due to the weather: prolonged rain, sandstorms, and low sun hours held back production. The cost of production increased due to higher costs of fertilizer, plastic, cardboard, fuel, and labor. This was compounded by border issues at Dover, with long queues and waiting times, as well as Spanish haulage companies going on strike protesting about high fuel costs. 

There has also been less demand for strawberries as the cost-of-living increases and consumers choose staples over 'expensive' soft fruit. This has resulted in no growth in imports from Spain this season in a category that has seen rapid year-to-year growth.

Meanwhile, UK production is well underway, and volumes are building nicely in early production areas, with peak production expected in late May. UK growers also face challenges, and one grower commented that demand for UK fruit was subdued by Spanish imports. In addition to this, they have the same increased input costs and not much movement in prices from retailers. The difficult labor situation in the UK continues with growers saying they are understaffed and 'just getting by.' This year's crop of British strawberries is predicted to be 50% larger than last year's.

France: Drop in consumer purchasing power affects sales
The French strawberry campaign started in March, although some producers suffered losses of nearly 20% due to frost. Overall since April, production volumes have increased due to the sunshine. So there are large volumes of strawberries on the market in all French production basins. But producers are quickly feeling the drop in consumer purchasing power on sales. French strawberries have to face competition from Spain, which is much cheaper; distributors want to maintain their margins and import a lot from Spain. Faced with massive French production and lower demand, the purchase prices of wholesalers and supermarkets are not very good for producers.

Italy: Prices up to 40% lower compared to last year
In the south of Italy, the 2022 strawberry campaign was marked by decidedly adverse climatic events. Temperatures, especially in the first three months of the year, were not mild, and the light was meager, thus affecting both yields and fruit quality. In April, with the delay of the medium-late varieties, there was a higher than average concentration of supply, which led to a depreciation of the product. Another factor making the campaign complex is the acute shortage of labor, which, especially in Basilicata, is leading to a gradual abandoning of the fields, well in advance of previous years. At the moment, there is no price difference between varieties on the markets. Prices remain low, with peaks of -40% compared to the same period last year.

A trader in Emilia Romagna says that the season started about ten days late. This is causing sales to slip forward, with local produce also being present on European markets at the same time. Strawberry prices have slowed down in recent days. The trader adds that one of his Swiss customers was offered strawberries from Belgium at a lower price than Italian ones, which had never happened before. This is a sign that there is high production even in countries that are not quantitatively important. But there are reports that there is also good production in Germany and therefore Italian exports are slowing down. Emilia Romagna (Cesena area) and Veneto (Verona area) are currently in full production. Many producers have a production surplus and therefore have had to sell off their production to some discount stores. This has further contributed to lower prices.

A wholesaler from northern Italy says that at the moment, strawberries are quoted at wholesale between 2.50 and 3 Euro/kg. Most of the production comes from Emilia Romagna, but there is no shortage of produce from the south of Italy, from Basilicata in particular.

Spain: Rocky start to Spanish strawberry season
Strawberry prices at origin have slightly increased over the previous weeks and are average for this time of year. However, supply has fallen. Around 85% of the expected volume in the total campaign has usually been marketed by the end of week 17. However, the cumulative production in the current campaign is about 6% lower than in the previous campaign due to the losses caused by the rains of March and the first half of April, which led to lower production on the plantations and more fruit being discarded. In addition, the low temperatures recorded in Europe led to lower consumption of strawberries in households.

Another important factor why Huelva's strawberry did not reach the same volume as in previous years in Europe in March and April has been the competition it's faced from Greece. According to Huelva’s sector representatives, who stated that Greece is significantly increasing its production and its hectares of strawberries without providing much information because the EU does not ask for it. They claim that the strawberries that Greece usually transports to Eastern European countries and those closest to its own territory now end up on the Central European markets due to Greece not being able to export to traditional destinations due to the war between Ukraine and Russia.

March has been the best month so far because, at certain moments, the price was almost 30% above the previous campaign. The lower volume allowed demand and supply to equal out. During that month, Spain was the only country exporting fruit to the United Kingdom, as Morocco couldn't do it due to the impact of the weather on its plantations. “We could have sold more strawberries if we had had more to sell,” an exporter said.

The acreage in Huelva, the province that represents more than 95% of the Spanish production, amounts to 6,167 hectares, almost 1% more than the 6,105 hectares planted with strawberries in the previous campaign. The most common varieties have been the Fortuna and Rociera, just like last year; however, the trend towards greater varietal diversification continues, especially with early varieties that have made it possible to enter the markets earlier than usual.

The demand in these last weeks has been good but from these days on it’s expected to go down due to the arrival of larger volumes of local produce in the countries of central and northern Europe.

South Africa: Good quality but fear of oversupply as weather heats up
The domestic strawberry season has just started in the North West and Limpopo provinces, with a number of new farmers and new cultivars. In the Southern Cape, there are growers who produce strawberries year-round.

The quality is looking very good with nice new varieties coming in this year, says a strawberry trader at the Johannesburg municipal market, expecting another bumper crop this year. There could possibly be a glut of strawberries when the weather gets warmer towards the end of winter and at the start of spring when it ripens simultaneously.

Strawberry imports from predominantly Egypt have stopped for the season. As volumes are still low, strawberries are still packed into 250g punnets; later, growers will move over to larger 400g and 500g punnets when they get more volumes.

Prices are good at the moment, R22 (1.3 euro) to R30 (1.76 euro) for a 250g punnet on the Johannesburg municipal market.

North America: Incoming warm weather to boost strawberry supplies
Heavy supplies out of California. That’s the scene for strawberries coming out of the state. “Strawberry supplies are going to get pretty heavy this week. It looks like we’re going to get into a good-sized pick,” says one Salinas, California grower-shipper. “And the quality overall is good, and size is also very good in Salinas-Watsonville.”

In Watsonville, California, another grower-shipper notes that recent cooler and overcast weather, including a few light rain events over the past two weeks, meant that any damage to the strawberries was very short-term. “And in the long run, it benefited the plants more than harmed the fruit,” says that grower-shipper.

She notes that a lack of warm sunlight slows down the ripening process of strawberries, which is a contributing factor to lower daily harvest numbers than originally estimated, especially for this time of year. “Thankfully, the plants are healthy, strong, and loaded up with green fruit primed for quick ripening when the temperatures rise,” she says. “We’re expecting a warming trend to arrive at the end of this week that will boost harvested volumes and kickstart the next six to eight weeks of large, promotable strawberries supplies.”

All three key strawberry growing regions are currently going in the state, which has also seen approximately 1,800 more acres of berry acreage added this year. Overall, that’s made for generally greater volumes of strawberries compared to last year at this time. The Salinas grower-shipper notes that Santa Maria is peaking now on strawberries, while Oxnard typically moves fruit to processing after Mother’s Day. Meanwhile, Salinas-Watsonville will probably peak in strawberry supplies in June. 

As for demand, it looked stronger than last year for Mother’s Day. “Mother’s Day is one of the biggest promotions of the year for strawberries,” says the Salinas grower-shipper. He adds that, in turn, with that large volume coming, pricing is aggressive to move the fruit. “It’s more aggressive pricing than I’ve seen in a couple of years. They then usually get the pricing under control pretty quickly and can stabilize pricing.”

China: Domestic strawberry production on the rise
Demand and production of strawberries is steadily growing in China. In 2019 China's production area was estimated to cover 125,000 hectares, with a steady growth of 5% per year in the years before. Most production is located in the East of the country, with Shandong, Jiangsu, and Liaoning as the main production areas. In the first three quarters of 2020, 2,600 new companies registered as strawberry-planting related businesses, a 5% growth compared to the year before. Most companies are small, with only 3% having a registered capital of more than 10 million yuan (1.5 million USD). This year, although strawberry sales were affected by the epidemic, the overall sales have not declined too much. The early season saw high prices, from 200 Yuan (30 USD) per kg to 160 Yuan (23 USD) per kg. Just before and after the Spring Festival, prices stabilized around 90-120 Yuan (15 to 18 USD) per kg.

Next week: Global Overview Asparagus!


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