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The California Strawberry Commission in Watsonville, CA, has "a team of three category development managers" who “spend most of their time going out and calling on all of the major retail chains and presenting category business reviews,” Chris Christian, vice president of marketing for the commission, said in a Jan. 26 interview with The Produce News.

The team shares with retailers “an analysis of their business” and recommendations regarding “opportunities to improve their strawberry sales going forward,” she said. “We go out with a series of recommended best practices” with respect to such things as assortment, pricing, promotion and merchandising. “That is a program we have had for over five years.”

The main message the category development managers take to the trade in their visits, she said, is that the berry category is important to successful produce department sales performance.

“The total berry category — that is strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, blackberries and any other berries — contributes about 9 percent” to produce sales, and strawberries alone contribute 5 percent, Ms. Christian said.

Recent data show that the berry category is “still very strong,” she said. “The total berry category is number one in the produce department, with $3.2 billion in dollar sales.” The strawberry component of that category represents $1.8 billion in sales, ranking “fourth among all individual fruits, behind apples, bananas and grapes.”

Strawberries represent “about 73 percent of all the berry category volume sold,” she said. “Our analysis” of category data “is really what helps us to make recommendations,” Ms. Christian continued.

“We have developed a price elasticity model. We take that out to accounts, and it helps them understand what volume and dollar sales impact there will be if they make adjustments in everyday and promoted pricing,” she said. “That is a new bit of research that we have, and we take that and apply it to the individual account.”

The commission has just completed some research on consumer attitudes and usage which provides “new information on what impacts strawberry purchase decisions in the store,” Ms. Christian said. “The top things motivating strawberry purchase are fresh appearance of the strawberry display” and the price of the berries.

One of the things “driving increased strawberry purchases and consumption,” she said, is the fact that a large percentage of consumers “now believe strawberries are naturally good for them. They are recognizing the nutrient and the antioxidant content in strawberries” and see strawberries as “a superfruit.”