As spring reaches the Northern Hemisphere, the strawberry markets in various countries enter new phases too. In the Netherlands, the shift from Spanish to Dutch strawberries is happening with local supply opportunities arising. Germany is still importing mainly from Southern Europe, but the first German greenhouse strawberries have been picked, and good prices are expected. In France, competition from cheaper Moroccan and Spanish strawberries is putting pressure on local production. In Italy, cold temperatures are impacting the ripening of strawberries, and farmers worry that many varieties may produce less than their potential. Meanwhile, in China, strawberry exports are increasing, and new pink and white varieties have entered the market, although prices have dropped significantly compared to last year. In North America, limited supplies of strawberries are expected due to delays in California production caused by weather conditions, and pricing remains strong despite concerns over potential changes in consumer spending.
Netherlands: Retail makes switch to Dutch strawberries
The strawberry market is currently in a transition phase from Southern European to Dutch product. With the cold, and subsequently, warm weather, the quality of Spanish strawberries is declining and the market is really in a transition phase. Dutch strawberry production is currently picking up. This started with the varieties Sonsation and Malling and this week the everbearer Elsanta was added. The demand last week leading up to Easter was very good with prices of 35 euros for the 10x500 gram. Meanwhile, the price is dropping a little daily, but a Dutch fruit trader does not rule out a rebound if retail starts picking up the Dutch product well. "Better weather is predicted for next week and then you traditionally get demand first and volume second."
Belgium: Belgian strawberry production set to kick off next week
Some Belgian and Dutch supply has been found here and there over the past few weeks, but the season, after a very difficult winter, will really take off next week. "It will be a bit of a wait this week, but next week we will see strawberry production shoot up in our area," says a Belgian trader. "As it has actually been a bit too cold for strawberry consumption, prices are at a maximum at the moment anyway. I hope that with the increasing volumes in the coming weeks, prices will remain stable."
When production reaches full capacity, there does seem to be room in the market for local supply. "At the moment, there is actually almost no competition from Spanish strawberries. Moreover, they seem to be losing some quality at the moment. Last year the Belgian strawberries had to ripen too quickly, but, partly due to the hard work of the growers and the fact that the product has had time this year, the Belgian strawberries are very tasty this year."
Germany: Good prices expected for greenhouse strawberries
Until the official start of the domestic harvest, German traders are importing their strawberries mainly from Southern Europe. Currently, Spanish fruits form the basis of the assortment, although not to the same extent as in previous years. Greek and Italian shipments followed in terms of volume. Dutch, Belgian and local greenhouse products completed the supplies, but were clearly more expensive than the competition from the south.
In week 11, the first German greenhouse strawberries of this year's season could already be picked. The qualities of the early strawberries are good, but the volume is still low. “Due to the extremely cold temperatures in Spain, there will be rather little produce on the market, especially at the start of the season. That is why we are positive that we will be able to achieve good prices for our greenhouse products”, a local producer stressed.
France: Increased competition from Spanish strawberries
While some production areas such as Dordogne and Rhône-Alpes are entering the season, others such as Lot-et-Garonne, Brittany or the South-East are at the height of production for the Gariguette and Cléry varieties. "Strawberries are generally well consumed the week before Easter," says an operator. Sunny days favour consumption. And on the production side, "there were no heat waves like last year, so there is a good spread of production". And if the post-Easter period is sometimes a cause for concern, for the moment the demand is staying strong.
But French strawberries are suffering from competition. More expensive than strawberries from Morocco or Spain, French strawberries are having a hard time finding a place on supermarket shelves. "We had to fight at the beginning of the season because the supermarkets were slow to open the French strawberry lines. Fortunately, we have been heard, which has improved the situation. Now, we have some concerns for this week because Spain will soon enter its peak production and send a lot of volumes to France.”
Italy: Cold temperatures slow ripening at peak of demand
The climatic trend recorded in recent weeks has been unfavourable for strawberry growers in southern Italy, as they are forced to deal with limited product availability, precisely at the time of greatest demand. In fact, the return of cold temperatures slowed down the ripening of the berries and therefore kept the prices on the pallets lively.
According to some farmers in the Basilicata region, the Easter festivities were characterized by a decidedly limited offer which had never occurred in past campaigns. The plants have undergone various stresses over the last few months, due to the climate which, since the planting period, has been fluctuating, with temperatures not in line with those typical of the season. After a mild and lasting autumn, from the end of January 2023 the temperature drops were frequent. Therefore it is assumed that, in the coming weeks, many varieties could produce less than their potential, even with the weather stabilising.
According to data from the GfK Consumer Panel, almost 17 million Italian families bought strawberries at least once in the last year ending in February 2023, equal to over 66%. The average quantity per purchasing act is slightly down: from 7.3 hectograms in the year ending in February 2021 to around 6.9 hectograms in the last twelve months.
Spain: Strawberry growers aim to recover kilos lost in production and retail in May
In the first part of the strawberry campaign in Huelva, producers have encountered various factors that, as announced two weeks ago the Association of Strawberry Producers and Exporters of Huelva, Freshuelva, had caused production to reach be up to 30% lower than that registered on the same date of the previous campaign. Currently, the decline stands at around 15%.
"We still have a few months of the campaign left, which we hope can even be extended to the month of May with a much improved climate like the one we have now that also affects the quality of our fruit. The month of May is going to be a very important month to recover part of the kilos lost in production and in retail”.
As they point out from Freshuelva, it is a decrease in production "that has been quite widespread, since the weather conditions have affected the entire Mediterranean basin, but that has not caused shortages in the markets."
“Retailers must also be understanding in the face of specific situations that are beyond any forecast. We work very hard to retain our customers and to remedy any adverse situation that may arise, such as this drop in production that we have been experiencing since the start of the campaign."
China: Strawberry exports continue to grow, albeit from a low base
China is one of the world's leading producers of strawberries, with domestic production accounting for a significant share of global output. China's strawberry production is concentrated in the eastern and southern parts of the country, with major production areas including Shandong, Zhejiang, Guangdong, and Fujian provinces. Strawberry cultivation in China is generally characterized by high yields, low prices, and a relatively short growing season. The planting area of strawberries in China is increasing year by year. In 2011, the planting area was around 80 thousand hectares, and it rose to 140 thousand hectares in 2021. Russia and Vietnam are its main export markets.
In recent years, new pink and white strawberries have made their debut on the market. Dandong, in the Northeast of China, is a centre for protected cultivation strawberry production. Data show that Dandong has a strawberry-growing area of approximately 6,700 hectares and produces up to 150,000 metric tons annually.
New varieties include the Mengzhiying and Angel 8, both white strawberry varieties, and the Fendai, a pink coloured strawberry. The Mengzhiying variety was developed by the Ningbo Academy of Agricultural Sciences in 2022. With their special appearance and delicate flavour, these strawberries are sold at higher prices than regular red strawberries online and in supermarkets across the country, including Tmall and JD.com.
At the start of the season there was a price drop for these specialized strawberry varieties. The poor market response has greatly affected the selling price. For example, in March last year, the purchase price of Angel 8 white variety was close to RMB 30 per box (4.30 USD), but the purchase price during the same period this year has dropped to RMB 8-17 per box (2.20 USD).
North America: California strawberry delays limit volume
Strawberry supplies are really tight in North America at the moment.
“Florida is on a trend downward as it usually is this time of year,” said one shipper. The state got a late start to the season following Hurricane Ian this past September.
It’s expected Florida will continue shipping quality berries. “We only have our best Florida fields and varieties going strong going through April,” says the shipper. “We’ve strategically dropped sub-par fields and kept the best plots going, giving them extra care and attention. The hope is that we can continue to harvest up to or into May in Florida to make up some of the gap in supply.”
This is generally when California begins its sizeable production out of the state. “Unfortunately, they have been delayed significantly due to the flooding, rains and cold weather, so strawberry volume is down considerably. California is weeks behind,” said the shipper.
Volume will remain limited yet continue to increase week by week. “We are hopeful that supply coming from California stabilizes in early to mid-May,” adds the shipper.
Supplies of strawberries from Central Mexico to the US are also coming to the end of the season. “The industry has pushed central Mexico later than would normally be the case because of the storms in California,” says another shipper. The season from that region went four to six weeks later than it normally would have.
All in all, pricing remains strong on strawberries. While it hasn’t been seen yet, the concern also remains over consumers to potentially be more discerning with their budgets if the economy slows significantly.
Australia: Strawberry industry to focus on robot harvest varieties
The Australian strawberry industry is about to embark on a new project, with the launch of an initiative to develop varieties that can be easily harvested by robots. The $11.5M, four-year effort is being delivered through Hort Innovation and led by the Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Queensland (DAFQ), and scientists will aim to meld together the flavour, colour and aroma traits Aussies love the most with premium strawberry varieties that feature single stemmed fruit, ideal for robotic picking.
It comes as recent data shows the horticulture workforce has decreased by 20 per cent over the past three years, which has resulted in 40 per cent of Australian growers adopting advanced machinery. A Department of Agriculture and Fisheries Queensland principal plant breeder said the program will reduce the time needed to pick and pack strawberries, resulting in a more profitable outcome for growers. She explains: “It takes the same amount of time to pick a small strawberry as it does to pick a large one. This breeding program is focusing on delivering a consistent fruit size that is preferred by consumers on unbranched flower stems – meaning that the fruit can be picked faster – either by conventional methods or through automation.”
The Australian national strawberry industry has an estimated farm gate value of $417 million, according to Hort Innovation's Australian Horticulture Statistics Handbook. For the year ending June 2022, there were 68,311 tonnes of strawberries produced, which was a 12 per cent decline from the previous year, however, the (planting) production area increased by nine per cent to 2,279 hectares