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New Well-Pict strawberry and raspberry varieties are thriving

Well-Pict Inc. in Watsonville, CA, introduced a pair of new proprietary berries at last year’s Produce Marketing Association Fresh Summit show in October and is now bringing those new varieties to the market for the fall season.

The new Well-Pict strawberry is genetically bred to produce larger berries later in the season, and a new raspberry delivers superior flavor along with larger fruit.

“These superior plants are already outperforming expectations,” said Sales Manager Dan Crowley. “The bigger strawberries will make for even more beautiful displays this fall, which means even higher sales in produce departments.”

The new varieties were several years in the making.

“It does take time to build up the population. If you’ve got a cultivar you like, it’s seven years before it gets to market. You have lot tests, road tests, you clean up the genes, build up the plant population at the nursery level,” Mr. Crowley said.

Developing a new berry is hit-or-miss and time-intensive. Mother plants are selected based on the desired characteristics of the fruit they bear — size, flavor, aroma, yield, durability — then those genetic traits are further refined through years of trial-and-error breeding. And while the size of Well-Pict’s fruit may lead some to think otherwise, no growth hormones or other chemical stimulants were utilized in developing these new varieties.

“The first and foremost thing we look for is the taste, the flavor profile; if you don’t have that [in a cultivar], you close down that particular variety,” said Mr. Crowley. “Appearance, aroma and the yield, those are the things we look for next. We are grower-based, farm-based; that’s where it starts and ends. If you can’t make yield, if you can’t make profits at that level, you don’t belong in the business.”

After years of research, Well-Pict’s new strawberry variety was an immediate smash in taste testing last fall and has become the company’s flagship brand.

“It takes a lot of time, money and energy to develop superior varieties like these, and we think people will not only be able to see but also taste the difference,” Mr. Crowley said.

Well-Pict grows raspberries and conventional and organic strawberries year round as well as conventional and organic blackberries from May through August, with operations throughout California and a winter strawberry deal in Plant City, FL.

“The deal with us is, we’ve got trading partners we try to supply 12 months a year. We do produce 12 months a year out of California, but it’s very, very light in December, January, February. That’s why we figured it would be a good match to [grow] in Florida. It tends to be a geographical distribution,” Mr. Crowley said.

Well-Pict has always focused on growing proprietary varieties, but that has been challenging in Florida. The Sunshine State’s hot, wet climate and sandy soil proved unsuitable for Well-Pict’s nursery stock when the company first set up shop in Florida four years ago.

By year two, Well-Pict had a Florida-friendly cultivar that represented about one-third of its plantings in that state. Last year, that percentage increased, and Mr. Crowley believes that the company will soon be growing nothing but proprietary strawberries in Florida. “It’s still a work in progress with some promising cultivars, but it will take several growing seasons to develop a commercially successful proprietary variety,” said Mr. Crowley. “It will happen. It does take time to develop a berry that’s specific to that climate. We’ll solve the puzzle.”