Last year, California Giant Berry Farms in Watsonville, CA, introduced a new pack style for strawberries consisting of six two-pound clamshells in a container, rather than "the older configuration of four two-pounders per container," according to Cindy Jewell, marketing director.
"We are seeing a little more usage" of the new six-per-box style this year, she said, and not just from club stores. "Typically, you would expect the club stores to really buy into that," but in addition, "we are seeing some of the more mainstream retailers adding it to their mix as well."
There are benefits to the clamshell itself as well as to the six-pack configuration, Ms. Jewell said. "The shape of the clamshell is more consumer friendly than the previous two-pound clamshell." The shape is squarer, and consumers find it "easier to manage," easier to pick up and easier to put in the refrigerator. The pack configuration permits not only more clamshells per box but also more per pallet and more per truckload, which helps with transportation costs.
The company is doing something else new with packaging as well. Just launched this year is the use of a smartphone-scannable QR code on all clamshells. Quick Response codes are matrix codes consisting of black modules arranged in a small square pattern on a white background. Since the code can be scanned with a smartphone, California Giant is using the codes on clamshells to enable consumers to scan the codes in-store and instantly be taken to a new mobile web site with California Giant recipes. That will enable consumers to "shop for all the ingredients" they need for the recipe while they are in the store. They can then "click to have that recipe e-mailed to them, so when they get home, they have it on their e-mail and can prepare it for supper," Ms. Jewell said.
The company also has weekly contests that consumers can enter to win $100 just by clicking on the QR code, she said. "That seems to be working. Consumers are clicking on it, entering, and having fun with it."
The 2011 California strawberry season "got off to a slow start" in Southern California because of rain and cold weather, Ms. Jewell said March 8. But "things are starting to pick up," and by the end of March, "the weather turns around down there and the plants respond quickly." Meanwhile, the harvest was starting in Santa Maria, "and that is going to add to the daily and the weekly volume for the retail trade."
California Giant actually expected to pick a few berries in Watsonville as early as March 10. But Watsonville and Salinas will not "really kick into high gear" until the middle of May, she said. By June, Santa Maria, Watsonville and Salinas will dominate the market.
The cool weather has been good for the strawberry plants in Watsonville and Salinas, she noted. "The plants look healthy. There is nothing but optimism at this point."
California Giant continues to focus on two strawberry varieties in all districts. "We have Albion and San Andreas," Ms. Jewell said. "That is a commitment that we made last year, and we really haven't moved off of that. Those two varieties work really well together all the way through the whole state. Those are the two main varieties we are harvesting throughout."
Both are consumer favorites because "they taste really good," she said. "The San Andreas is a little bit earlier than the Albion, so it helps in those southern districts to really kick the volume off earlier." Then "the Albion comes in after it" to sustain the production.