South African retailer Woolworths is always looking to distinguish itself through fruit. This week's introduction of the Florida Pearl white strawberry, wholly unknown to local consumers, follows the same ambition.
"We have for many years attempted to establish the strawberry category as a special category. Everyone sells strawberries, but we want consumers to associate Woolworths with the best strawberries," says Konrad Marais, senior fruit procurement specialist for Woolworths.
To that end, Woolworths asked specialist strawberry grower In2food (formerly Echoberry) in Brits, Northwest Province, to multiply the Florida Pearl strawberry plants supplied by the Ekland Marketing Company of California (EMCO CAL) in Florida.
The American breeder launched the Florida Pearl strawberry cultivar only last year, and Woolworths jumped at the chance to start trials with the strawberry, which, apart from its appearance, was also selected for its tropical flavor.
"Through their continuous search for better and stronger varieties, In2food/Echoberry really laid the foundation for the variety," Konrad says. "After receiving the initial plant material from EMCO CAL, they multiplied the plants in their nursery. They increased the stock to 80,000 plants for commercial establishment – truly amazing work from their team."
Red achenes indicate the ripeness of Florida Pearl strawberries
"You can definitely taste that it's different from conventional strawberries," he remarks. "It has a smoother texture and much lower acid levels than strawberries we typically have. Everyone who tastes it refers to a tropical taste. Some people pick up a note of pineapple, others say they detect a hint of apricot."
Its appearance is highly unusual: when ripe, the flesh is white, punctuated by the red seeds on the skin, which can have a pink blush.
The fruit is currently only available in Woolworths stores in Gauteng and Mpumalanga, but the retailer plans to offer the Florida Pearl strawberry nationally for sixteen weeks.
"Although the harvest started two to three weeks earlier than we'd initially expected, it's taking some time to get into full swing. It looks like the heavy flush of fruit will only be ready towards the middle or end of June, but we'll already be sending some to our Western Cape stores towards the end of this month."
So far, he observes, every day's harvest was sold within a day.
"Despite the Florida Pearl strawberries not having been advertised anywhere yet, our daily sales indicate that the strawberries are already highly sought after. We're very excited to be able to introduce South Africans to these strawberries, a first for South Africa."