Though the volume of California’s strawberry crop is in a seasonal decline as summer production wanes, there should be solid supplies of organic strawberries through September and into fall, albeit at a higher price point.
Organic plantings this year represent about 12.5 percent of California’s strawberry acreage and about 12 percent of the volume, but those percentages tend to drop for the fall production. This year’s organic volume peaked in June with more than one million trays per week in production. From July through mid-August, shippers of organic strawberries were consistently within 3 percent of 900,000 trays on a weekly basis, and the state’s total strawberry volume averaged above 6 million trays per week in that time frame.
Supplies of organics will most likely drop slowly for the next five to six weeks, with September’s weekly volume average between 500,000 and 600,000 trays. If history is an indicator, the FOB price will most likely ramp up during that period, climbing to the upper teens before crossing the $20 mark as October approaches.
Dan Crowley, vice president of sales and marketing for Well-Pict in Watsonville, CA, said, “We are in that period when each week we see a little less fruit until Oxnard’s fall crop starts in a couple of weeks. It’s late summer when production in Watsonville and Salinas starts to decline. The organic production will mirror that.” Crowley added that Well-Pict will continue to draw from its organic production in Watsonville throughout September.
It has been a challenging year for the strawberry crop in general, Crowley said, with weather issues, including extreme heat, impacting volume at various times during the spring and summer. The labor shortage that has been gripping the nation all year is another disruptive factor to deal with. “I’d say we only have about 75-80 percent of our normal labor force,” he said.
“We are in that period when each week we see a little less fruit until Oxnard’s fall crop starts in a couple of weeks. It’s late summer when production in Watsonville and Salinas starts to decline. The organic production will mirror that.” – Dan Crowley
Total California strawberry production through August 21 was about 150 million trays compared to 157 million trays a year ago. Interestingly, organic production has not declined in that time frame, topping 15 million trays in total through the third week of August in both years.
Through much of 2021, organic strawberries have received a solid premium over conventional fruit. For example, during its two one-million tray weeks, the organic California strawberry market saw FOB prices averaging close to $15 per tray. During the same period, conventional fruit had an FOB average of $10, according to a market report on the California Strawberry Commission website. And in mid-August, while organic berries were returning $17 per tray conventional fruit was selling for $13.50.
The price gap tends to increase for fall production, Crowley said, as organics make up a smaller percentage of the total crop.
Anthony Gallino, vice president of sales for Bobalu Berries filed a similar report from California’s Oxnard district. “We are past the peak in our spring crop and are transitioning to the fall crop,” he said. “We are seeing a decline in volume but should move into cruise control with increased volume by the second week of September.”
Anthony Gallino, Vice President of Sales, Bobalu Berries
He said that organic strawberries will follow the same pattern. “We should see steady supplies through September. There will be a drop-off in October.”
“We are past the peak in our spring crop and are transitioning to the fall crop. … We are seeing a decline in volume but should move into cruise control with increased volume by the second week of September.” – Anthony Gallino
As far as promotions are concerned, Gallino said both organic and conventional strawberries are popular right now. “We are getting a lot of requests for Labor Day promotions,” he said, noting that Northwest blueberries and California stone fruit supplies are in decline. “Strawberries are looking pretty attractive right now [as a retail promotional item].”
Kyla Oberman, director of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms in Watsonville, had a slightly different take as her company’s organic strawberry production is still in very good shape. “We’ll have a strong, steady supply of organic strawberries now through November, when total volume will dip down slightly during the winter months,” she said, adding that the quality of the organic crop is excellent. “Color, shape, size, and flavor are all ideal. Counts are averaging 18-22 on the one-pound clamshell.”
Kyla Oberman, Director of Marketing, California Giant Berry Farms
“We'll have a strong, steady supply of organic strawberries now through November, when total volume will dip down slightly during the winter months. ... Color, shape, size, and flavor are all ideal. Counts are averaging 18-22 on the one-pound clamshell." – Kyla Oberman
Oberman noted that the demand for organic strawberries this summer has been excellent, and she’s anticipating that will not change. “Demand has been very good all summer and will remain steady all the way through the rest of the year as overall volumes decline,” she said.