California supplies of strawberries are picking up just in time for Valentine's Day tomorrow, a holiday long associated with the berry. "Demand is good as we get into Valentine's Day, and consumers look for strawberries for their celebrations," says Cindy Jewell of Bobalu. "We expect demand to continue to increase as retailers dedicate more display space to strawberries in the produce department and begin to promote spring volume."
While supplies are still catching up in California, they have remained steady from Mexico. "California is definitely behind in volume compared to the same time last year. Bobalu is about three to four weeks behind the same time last year in volume from Oxnard fields," she says, noting that Mexican imports have kept the berries in the pipeline. She also adds that the weekly report published by the Strawberry Commission shows strawberries shipped to date from California as a whole are just over 1 million trays compared to 3.5 million trays at the same time last year.
It's no surprise California is behind, given the significant storms and rainfall the state saw in January. "Some areas of the state had more damage than others, so the timing of the season is undetermined at this point. Other regions will come into play in the next month or so, and everyone will most likely be getting a late start," Jewell says, adding though that a late start doesn't necessarily mean a later end to the season. "Weather is always a factor, so in the southern part of the state, as it warms up in the summer with daytime and nighttime highs impacting the plants, the season will end when weather dictates the end.
While Bobalu is currently harvesting in Oxnard, Coachella, and Mexico, other companies are also sourcing strawberries from Florida.
All of this means that pricing on strawberries is stable and higher due to the lower volume being shipped. "At some point soon, retail pricing will need to come down a bit as volume increases to attract more consumers and encourage increased sales," she says.
Looking ahead, Jewell says its Oxnard strawberry volume will continue increasing weekly as long as the weather cooperates and the warmth comes on. "In the short term, we are challenged with getting this season started with consistent volume. February is still winter, so we are really looking forward to getting the season off the ground here in California and responding to steady demand that will carry us well into the spring and summer," says Jewell, adding it also hopes to start production in Santa Maria in the next three to four weeks.
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