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Strawberry Commission: One-third of the year's volume yet to come

Weather is always the caveat in agriculture, and that is particularly true on the shoulders of the strawberry season, either early or late. This year, according to Carolyn O'Donnell, marketing director for the California Strawberry Commission in Watsonville, CA, weather took its toll on the early season in Southern California. Since then, “the weather has been really great." Coastal growing areas have escaped the extreme heat felt farther inland this summer.

005--CalStraw-CSC-Carolyn-OCarolyn O'DonnellGrowers are optimistic about a strong fall strawberry program in California this year. But "always, weather has the final say," O'Donnell cautioned. "We really don't know the story until it starts raining in the fall."

That said, shipments to date are on track for yet another record-volume year, in spite of a slow early-season start, and as of late July, one-third of the projected crop volume was still to come, with the harvest expected to continue into December.

Total strawberry volume from California in 2012 was more than 190 million trays.

In support of what is expected to be a strong fall season, the strawberry commission has a number of promotional activities carrying on into the fall period. Among those is a continuation of a blogger program started in the spring.

In April and May, "we had two different blogger events, one in Southern California and one in Northern California," O'Donnell said. "Both times we brought them out to the field." The initiative resulted in more than a million impressions on Twitter alone.

"Coinciding with that, we have six specific bloggers that we have selected and invited to be our blogger ambassadors for the year. They have regular contributions throughout the year," either through writing recipes and blog posts or through partnerships with the commission in various promotional activities.

With one of the bloggers, Laura Fuentes, who is also founder of Momables, the commission launched a "Build a Better Lunch Box" promotion July 29.

"We also have a video talking about some back-to-school lunch ideas," featuring with Dave Grotto, a dietician who has represented the commission for several years, and M.J. Tam, a blogger out of Chicago, she said.

"We will be doing other promotions around that," she added, "but that will be our big fall push.

In trade outreach, "we will continue to have our second round of meetings with retailers, giving them category projections and best practices recommendations," said Chris Christian, vice president of marketing at the commission.

"One thing we are doing in the fall," she said, is packaging for retailers information from consumer attitude and usage research "that will be relevant to retail and foodservice audiences," Christian said. That will contain "the latest information on what consumers are looking for in stores and in restaurants — what are the trends, what is most influential to them in terms of how they shop" and in terms of nutrition information.

The commission will be participating in the upcoming Food & Nutrition Conference & Expo of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in October, "working with our three registered dietician spokespersons there," she said. Also at that event, a strawberry researcher will speak at one of the scientific sessions.