Rooting thousands of strawberry plants on elevated tables the first week of October, Oppy, under the Ocean Spray license, will launch its first-ever specialty berry pack in the Happy Berry™ label mid-December. The hydroponic tabletop strawberry concept was developed by New Wave Berry, LLC, a joint venture formed by grower, marketer and distributor Oppy, agricultural investment firm Farmers Gate and family-owned agribusiness Red Dog Management, who is growing the crop in Santa Maria, CA.
Left: the high tunnel facility; right: Jason Fung.
The high tunnel facility grows protected strawberries on tables raised to chest height, making labor more ergonomically friendly for those planting, tending and harvesting the berries. Growing hydroponically also requires fewer inputs than field grown strawberries — because they are elevated, the ground beneath does not require the intense fumigation between planting cycles typically applied in traditional production. Berries receive just the right nutrition, at just the right time while dramatically reducing water use and greenhouse efficiencies enable all of those benefits for year-round production.
“Berry consumption continues to outpace the growth of other fruit items,” said Oppy vice-president of categories and strategy Jason Fung. “While we’re very encouraged to see this, macro level trends facing the industry like land availability, labor, water, sustainability and beyond continue to raise challenges.”
Plastics and water reduction
Fung said a recent study by Measure to Improve revealed the equipment and materials used in the production of a pound of Happy Berry™ strawberries entails 20 percent less plastic than field grown strawberries. With water challenges for agriculture throughout the world, tabletop berries are grown in seamless troughs with a precise irrigation system that safeguards water reclamation/optimization.
The 12-oz clamshell features hydroponic call-outs, a QR code to educate consumers and more.
“Even with all the benefits of hydroponic strawberries, it can be difficult to introduce something new that consumers aren’t typically familiar with,” said Fung. “Trust goes a long way to motivate a purchase decision, which is why the licensing of Ocean Spray’s logo helps encourage consumers to pick up a new item.”
Oppy’s marketing team has been holding onto the Happy Berry™ sub brand for a number of years as it initially received exceptionally positive reviews in consumer testing. Today, the premium gold label appearing on the 12-oz. clamshell features the Ocean Spray brand, under trademark license from Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., the Happy Berry™ label, key hydroponic call-outs and a QR code to educate consumers.
“It’s an exciting project to get off the ground. We’ve had great support from our team and the industry,” said Greg and Donna France, owners of Red Dog Management. The Frances also noted there has been remarkable interest from domestic workers to be a part of this initiative, considering labor is less arduous for those tending to the tables.