The 2023 strawberry season has been a mixed bag for the various global markets. In the Netherlands, the autumn crop shot up early, causing losses later in the season. This lack of production has pushed up the prices, of which the German market is feeling the effect as they wait for the arrival of strawberries of Greek origin. In France, consumption at this time of year has dropped, as consumers become more aware of natural growing seasons. In Italy, the production of strawberries is set to increase, whilst consumption declines slightly. Spain is having a difficult season, with a late start and issues causing plants to be uprooted and replanted. Meanwhile in North America, strawberry supplies are tight, as the southern growing regions have yet to come into production.

Netherlands: Strawberry volumes down sharply
The strawberry season is going somewhat strangely, according to a Dutch trader. "For instance, the autumn crop under glass, which was set in mid-August, shot up early. This resulted in very large volumes on the market in September and the first week of October, but in the meantime the volumes have fallen sharply and I estimate that last week the Dutch and Belgian crop was already at less than a third of the volume in that week in previous years."

"This situation had quite an effect on prices. The UK and Scandinavia had plenty of local product until the second week of October. This put considerable pressure on strawberry prices until that week. Auction prices during that period were around 3 euros per kilo for the large blocks, up from 6-7 euros in 2022. From the second of October, the tide turned again. There are continuous shortages in the market and clock prices rose from 5 euros in week 42 to 11.50-12.50 euros last week."

According to the trader, there is always demand for strawberries in November. "What plays into this is that in October and November, the Netherlands and Belgium are the only suppliers on the European market. From the end of next week, we also expect the first production from Egypt, but often this means that commercial volumes arrive another week later. How the Spanish and Moroccan seasons will go is quite uncertain. The Dutch lit strawberry crop will start from week 48."

Belgium: Very high prices for strawberries
"Strawberries are extremely expensive at the moment." This is told by a Belgian trader. "This week we have been working with prices we have not seen very often. This is partly because there is still relatively high demand, but mainly because Europe-wide there is little supply on the market. This is traditionally the time when it has to come from Belgian and Dutch strawberries, but this month there is a gap in supply. In addition, volumes from Egypt are also still delayed. Eventually, Egypt will provide some relief and supply from Belgium and the Netherlands will also pick up. For now, prices are, I think, at an all-time high."

Germany: Dutch strawberries dominate, Greek soon to arrive
High-priced greenhouse produce from the Netherlands is currently dominating the strawberry market. Direct importers are expecting the first shipments of Greek batches in a few days. Thanks to the optimal, dry weather in Greece, good yields are expected overall.

After a late start to the season, the domestic strawberries were particularly flavoursome due to their slow ripening and optimal irrigation. Prices remained largely stable, which was also due to the slightly lower harvest volume. There were hardly any surpluses on the market, summarised Simon Schumacher, spokesman for the board of the Verband Süddeutscher Spargel- und Erdbeeranbauer e.V. (VSSE) at the end of the main harvest in the open field.

Austria: Almost 20% more strawberries in 2022
Strawberry production in 2022 amounted to a pleasing 16,900 tonnes (+19% on 2021). The fruit was mainly grown in Lower Austria, Upper Austria and Styria. Strawberries account for 7 per cent of the total yield in commercial fruit growing. The area of strawberries has increased slightly in recent years. In 2016, strawberries were grown on a total of 1,138 hectares, in 2022 on 1,221 hectares. There was also a minimal increase in area of around 1 per cent in 2022 compared to the previous year.

France: Belgian strawberries on the market
Belgian strawberries are currently the only origin on the French market. In three weeks' time, Egyptian and Moroccan strawberries will be arriving. On the demand side, the usual cold weather this month does not encourage consumption, and consumer trends have been changing for several years now: consumers, who are increasingly aware of the "rhythm of the seasons, no longer find it logical to eat strawberries in November."

Italy: Production of strawberries expected to increase
Strawberry production is expected to increase in southern Italy, particularly in Campania and Basilicata. However, in these two regions there is a decrease in the area planted with strawberry plugs, which is not observed in Calabria and Sicily. There is also an increase in organic production.

In Campania, planting for the new season is almost complete. In terms of varieties, there has been an increase in the planting of Rossetta strawberries compared to last year. Due to weather conditions, some plots will be delayed by a few weeks. It is hoped that this delay will result in an improvement in product quality. The first limited quantities are expected by mid/end January.

In Basilicata, there are those who have recently finished planting and those who have already started harvesting early strawberries, thanks to the mild weather which seems to have accelerated plant growth and fruit ripening. The Fortuna variety has been picked for a few days now. The quantities are still very limited, with small to medium sizes. Despite the high prices (€20-25 per box), demand from Italian and European operators seems to be satisfactory. The first pallets have also left for Germany.

In the last 12 months (year ending September 2023), almost 17.5 million Italian households bought strawberries. This figure is lower than in 2021 (19 million households).

Spain: The strawberry plantation in Huelva has not yet been completed
A new campaign begins in Huelva and, in the first week of November, there are still companies that have not finished planting strawberries on their farms. “There are nurseries that this year have been very late in starting up, starting in mid-October, which for us is late,” remarks an operator from the province.

“This year, in addition, we have once again encountered problems in some plants. In a specific variety, 14-15 days after planting, we have had to uproot entire cultivations and replant them, which added to the delay in the delivery of plants, will make us have between a month and a month and a half of delay in some plantations. In fact, in our company today we are replanting all those plants that were not good enough.”

The replanting has been carried out in a few weeks, in which the long-awaited rain has arrived hand in hand with strong gusts of wind on the coast of Huelva that have caused damage throughout the sector, says. “In Cartaya, Aljaraque, Moguer, Bonares, Lucena… the wind has broken arches and plastic from the greenhouses that were already set up for raspberries and blueberries; generating large losses at a structural and production level.

“The positive thing,” he points out, “is the water that has fallen. Last month it was announced that the 25% cut in irrigation that we already suffered last year would rise to 50%. The plants are doing very well now with all the rain, but we are asking the Board to increase the irrigation amount to be able to maintain them when the rain stops.”

And we must remember that strawberries are a strategic crop for Andalusia. The region's production, concentrated almost entirely in Huelva, accounts for 97.1% of the national harvest and 26.1% of production in the EU, representing 52.6% of the volume and 48% the value of the European imports of strawberries in 2022, according to data from the Junta de Andalucía.

“I, personally, have decided to stop cultivating 30 hectares - 26 of strawberries and 4 of blueberries - fearing not having enough water to grow all the crops. I just hope that the situation improves so I can start them up again next year,” shares the operator.

Egypt: High prices expected but 10-15% less acreage
Egypt's strawberry season is starting soon. The government is waiting for harvest quality to improve before giving its green light for exports to begin. According to a grower, everything points to a successful season. He says, "We are receiving much greater demand than usual for fresh strawberries, particularly from Europe." The same source explains the surge in demand by adverse weather conditions in Morocco and Spain, leaving a gap in the market that Egypt will fill.

By contrast, weather conditions have been good in Egypt this season for strawberries, a marked improvement from a difficult season last year. A grower says, "This will translate into better yield and fewer losses, which will offset the drop in acreage." The same source estimates the acreage drop to be around 10-15% due to higher production costs."

In terms of varieties produced, this season brought the commercial introduction of varieties that were on trial last season. The grower explains: "Fortuna continues to hold first place in terms of volume, followed by Sensation and Festival. But there will be more volumes of the Felicity variety, which was in trial last year. Many new American varieties are also currently being tested and are of great interest to growers"

Finally, in terms of prices, it is expected that this season will see an increase over last season due to higher production costs. This is the case at least for farm gate prices, since exporters could use the devaluation of the Egyptian pound to stabilize prices.

Morocco: 20-25% drop in strawberry area
In Morocco, the strawberry industry is coming out of a difficult season marked by adverse weather, significant volume losses, and a demand that just wasn't there. A grower says, "Among all soft fruit, strawberries have been the biggest casualty last season with the highest volume losses due to swings in temperature, and also the lowest prices. Strawberry production costs are rising more than other soft fruits, and the drop in yield is coupled with a drop in profitability." The same source reported that the strawberry acreage declined this season by 20-25% drop in favor of other products, such as blueberries, avocados, and potatoes. In terms of varieties, there is a trend towards replacing the Spanish varieties previously used with American varieties more resistant to the new climatic realities.

Competition from Egypt, which enjoys abundant volumes, an easier production model, and lower production costs, is pushing Moroccan growers to turn to other berries or to develop the frozen strawberry sector, as well as to focus on the local Moroccan market.

In October, a violent storm hit the Moroccan Atlantic coast, causing heavy damage to soft fruits and greenhouses, but strawberries came out unscathed. A grower says: "There was no impact on strawberries, as they are not yet ready at this time of year. There have been losses of plants, but there's still time to catch up. Losses in terms of volume over the whole season will therefore be minimal."

North America: Tight availability strawberries
Strawberry supplies are tight right now in North America. Picking had been happening in the northern regions such as Salinas-Watsonville and Santa Maria but that’s coming to an end. At the same time, strawberry production is ramping up in the southern growing regions, including Southern California (Oxnard) and Mexico, though it isn’t fully underway. It is anticipated to pick up in approximately three weeks, though minimal picking there is happening right now.

However in central Mexico, production will begin in December, though last month’s Hurricane Otis has put the crop slightly behind. The crop from this region will continue through March.

Notably strawberry quality is being closely monitored due to the windy conditions in Oxnard and the hurricane in Mexico -- both conditions can bruise and damage the fruit so packing is being watched closely and less fruit is going into the packs.

On the other side of the country, Florida will also start its strawberry production later this month, as early as Thanksgiving.

Demand for strawberries is strong, which is typical for this time of year, and it is also exceeding supply.

Next week: Global Market Overview Blueberries!