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The opportunity for consumers to find good promotional deals on strawberries for Easter and beyond was shaping up nicely as of early March.

Consumers ought to be able to buy "a nice-eating strawberry at retail for Easter for $2 to $2.50 for a one-pound basket," Andy Gustavson, produce manager for Ben Lomond Market in Ben Lomond, CA, and produce supervisor for sister store Scotts Valley Market, told The Produce News March 8. "In the past, the price was a little higher," and two one-pound packs for $4 "will be a hot price" this Easter.

Mr. Gustavson said that his stores would be get their strawberries for Easter primarily from Oxnard, CA, and points south, such as San Diego and Baja California.

He said that strawberries were commanding about $25 for an eight-pack of one-pound strawberries at wholesale.

Mr. Gustavson said that consumers in his stores like to buy locally grown produce when they can. "The weather here -- there's been a lot of rain, rain every week," he said. "It's a hard time getting anything."

In Santa Maria, there was a lot of fruit on the vines but it was not ripening, he said. But despite slow or delayed harvests in Santa Maria and the Watsonville-Salinas area, he anticipates selling "tons of berries" for Easter.

Mr. Gustavson said that what he pays for strawberries is in line with what large supermarket chains pay. Supply disruptions can find large chains losing "$5 to $10 per case" just to have strawberries available, he said. But unlike small independent operations such as Ben Lomond Market and Scotts Valley Market, the large chains can absorb the loss, he said.

In addition to Easter, Mother's Day is a big promotional holiday for strawberries for retailers. But Father's Day is not particularly big for strawberry promotions by the time it comes around in late June, Mr. Gustavson said.

Still, once strawberries start coming on in volume out of Santa Maria and the Watsonville-Salinas area, Mr. Gustavson runs them on ad "almost every other week," he said. Ben Lomond Market and Scotts Valley Market will try to help his grower by placing strawberries on ad when his grower has a heavy volume of strawberries to move, Mr. Gustavson said.

Strawberries typically continue to run strong through the Fourth of July. "After that, strawberries lose their luster competing with the summer stuff," Mr. Gustavson stated.

Star Market in Salinas, CA, is a mid-sized, independent, family-owned store. When The Produce News spoke March 8 with Ryan Souter, produce manager at Star Market, an eight-ounce clamshell of strawberries was selling for $3.99. Though much lower than January or February prices, the price still was on the high side for strawberries. A more typical price range at Star Market is $1.99-$2.99 for a one-pound clamshell, Mr. Souter said.

The good news for consumers at Star Market is that Easter promotions were shaping up to offer an eight-ounce clamshell of strawberries for $1.99, he said.

Star Market's shoppers like their fresh produce to come from as nearby as possible, said Mr. Souter. He'll have strawberries on ad as of March 31. Star Market's strawberries come primarily from Watsonville-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates and to a lesser degree from Salinas-based grower Health America.

Star Market has "tried a few varieties" from Health America in the past couple of years, Mr. Souter said.

Star Market picks up its strawberries directly from Driscoll when Driscoll harvests locally; when Health America harvests in Salinas, it brings strawberries directly to Star Market.

Mr. Souter said that Star Market shoppers "like to see a 'Driscoll' label." He added, "If the price is good and berries are good, we sell berries well here [all] year long."

Strawberry promotions at Star Market carry through the Fourth of July. Last year the retailer had strawberries on ad for the Fourth of July at 99 cents for an eight-ounce clamshell.

(For more on California strawberries, see the March 22, 2010, issue of The Produce News.)