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California Giant's Florida strawberry growers got through the December freezes in good shape. Now Director of Marketing Cindy Jewell is focusing on marketing those berries as part of a year-round program that also includes product from company farms in California and Mexico.

Freeze events over three weeks last month created "an unfortunate situation because December is a great month for Florida berries. There’s not a lot of competition if you can bring it in," Ms. Jewell said. “Luckily for Florida, things change rather quickly; it goes from 30 degrees to 70 degrees overnight. The plants are very resilient, they’re healthy, the growers did a good job of protecting them during the freezes, they can turn around very quickly and produce great quality and great volume.”

This is California Giant’s fourth year in Florida. The program has been successful, and this year’s acreage is “pretty much right on target with what it was last year,” Ms. Jewell said — about 150 acres of Festival, Radiance and Albion berries grown near Plant City, FL. The company could have even more Florida production, but “we’re maintaining and trying to make sure all of our growing regions complement each other. We try to make sure we maintain a good balance so we don’t have our own growers competing against each other.”

As January began, “We’re looking forward to Florida getting back into production. We have year-round business on the buyer side, so as soon as we get back into good numbers again, we’ve got demand,” Ms. Jewell said. “The demand is always there, it’s always growing. As much as we produce, it gets sold.”

Strawberries are a growth category, with demand increasing each year for the last decade, spurred on in recent years by increasing demand for blueberries and blackberries.

“Strawberries definitely are the anchor in the berry category and continue to see growth year after year,” Ms. Jewell said. “There’s a lot of really good news out there in terms of nutrition and the fact that they’re available every day and very versatile. Consumers can afford to keep them in the refrigerator; they’re definitely a good value and still kids’ favorite fruit. Plus growers have done a really good job with flavor; they taste better than they’ve tasted in years. Consumers are confident that when they buy them, they’re going to taste good.”

That makes Ms. Jewell’s marketing tasks much easier. California Giant is “putting some new programs together” and focusing on social media and other means of outreach. Plans include adding a QR code to the label sometime in the next few months that will let consumers with smartphones check out product and company information while they are still at the supermarket.

“They can go straight to the recipe page on our web site, meet the farmers, see packaging information, find the best way to select berries, what to look for,” she said. “We’re trying to make sure they have a positive experience, know the brand, build brand loyalty and look for California Giant based on the resources and the help we’re giving them.”

Customers with smartphones actually will be able to access the company web site from the store and have recipes e-mailed to them before they arrive home.

“We’re pretty excited about the season. We’re going to build up our recipe collection because that’s what consumers are looking for. So we’re filling our database and looking to enhance the consumer experience and get them to buy more — and enjoy more,” Ms. Jewell said. “We’re trying to put a face on our company through the Internet. Consumers can also send us feedback and ask us questions. Every e-mail and phone call that comes in, I talk to those people individually.”