Strawberry Prices Rise as Deliveries to Freezers Fall

The field price for California processing strawberries has shot up an unprecedented six cents per pound in response to anemic deliveries to processors, reported Peter Skolnick, president of Monterey, California-headquartered Imperial Frozen Foods, in a recently posted market update.

“Deliveries to the freezer for the week ending May 24 were 17 million pounds.  That puts us 84 million pounds behind last year. Normally May is a big month for processing strawberries, with peak weeks between 30 million and 40 million pounds.  No such luck this year,” he said.  “The wishful thinking is that Santa Maria will come to the rescue in the next few weeks with accelerated volume.  We must all remember that the growers see frozen strawberry processors as a necessary, but not desirable outlet.  Only when the fresh market is weak do they divert to the processor.”

Though fluctuating weather conditions have made it tricky year for California’s growers, fresh strawberry production this season is ahead of what it was at this time last year.  

Looking at cold storage holdings for the month ending April 30, Skolnick noted that there were nearly 100 million fewer pounds of frozen strawberries in warehouses. That amounted to about 30% less than what was on hand at the end of April 2013.

“Higher consumption and lower production is a formula for the tightest supply seen in years,” stated the Imperial Frozen Foods president. “Processors, not accepting new business, are taking a wait and see approach toward confirming orders. Expect higher pricing and limited supply.”

Raspberries
Commenting on the raspberry situation, he remarked: “How is this for a contradiction?  There are five million pounds more of IQF raspberries this year, compared to last.  Astronomical pricing from Chile and Serbia doesn't add up. However, if Chile and Serbia are the only game in town, the poor buyer has no choice. A new pack in the US Pacific Northwest is due in July.  Weather there is highly unpredictable, and raspberries are fragile.  Don't get hopes up for any improvements in supply or moderation in pricing.”

Blueberries
“After a year of excess supply and a rescue by the USDA purchase, the blueberry supply and demand is in balance,” reported Skolnick. “Growers and processors are laying the groundwork for a recovery from depressed pricing. Considering the popularity of frozen blueberries, expect pricing to creep up over the next month.  We won't know how growing conditions and the fresh market will affect supply until August for cultivated blueberries, and September for wild blueberries. Bumper fresh blueberry crops are expected in Washington State and British Columbia this season, due to good weather conditions and a desire to meet ever-increasing demand for the healthy fruit.”