Why you may not be seeing fresh strawberries at your local grocery store

If you wanted to pick up some strawberries at the grocery store lately, you may have been disappointed to find there weren't any. Experts say it's a mix of the end of the season, rainy weather and high prices.

Rain and higher prices may be keeping strawberries off store shelves, experts say

You may notice a lack of strawberries at your local grocery store. That's largely because it's getting close to the end of the growing season, a spokeswoman for the California Strawberry Commission says. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC)

If you were looking for strawberries in your most recent trip to the grocery store,  you may have left disappointed.

The juicy red berries, which typically come from California at this time of the year, aren't nearly as plentiful as they were just a few weeks ago.

There are a few reasons behind the lack of strawberries, says Mike von Massow, an assistant professor at the school of hospitality and tourism management at the University of Guelph.

The first is that we're very close to the end of the growing season. The fewer the strawberries, the more expensive they are to stock.

"As the price goes up, individual store chains or even individual store managers, might choose not to bring strawberries in," von Massow said. "In some cases, they might say, 'That's just too expensive. My market won't bear that. So I'm not going to bring it in.'"

Production decreasing

Strawberry production has also been declining in California for a number of years, von Massow said.

"Part of that is offset by higher yielding varieties, but we have seen, because of changes in the cost of production, because of changes in the regulatory environment as to which products they can use to protect their strawberries, and because of some of the dry weather that we've seen through the ongoing drought in California, people have cut back the number of acres of strawberries that they've been producing, which will make them harder to get," he said.

Von Massow added the weather can play a big role in whether we see strawberries on Canadian store shelves.

So if there was a particularly wet or dry week, that could impact how many strawberries get shipped out.
The strawberry growing season is wrapping up in California, but heavy rain meant some farmers were done sooner than they expected. That would have impacted the number of strawberries being shipped to Canada. (The Associated Press)

Well beyond peak season

California shipped 73 per cent of its fresh strawberry exports to Canada in 2015, and 32.7 per cent of its frozen strawberry exports.

This year has been another good one for the crop, said Carolyn O'Donnell, the communication director for the California Strawberry Commission. So far in 2016 they have sold 189.7 million trays of strawberries, compared to 186 million in 2015 and 186.8 million in 2014.

But farmers are now picking the last of their berries, and two storms that brought significant rainfall ended the season earlier than expected for many growers in the northern part of the state.

"Normally, this time of year, we do drop off. We're well beyond any kind of peak season," O'Donnell said, adding unlike apples, strawberries can't be stored.

"They're not something you can stick in a warehouse and hold. Once they're harvested, they have to be quickly cooled and shipped," she said.

The good news? Strawberry production ramps back up in January, O'Donnell said, and the berries should be available again in Canadian stores in by late February.


  • An earlier version of this story stated California exports 73 per cent of its strawberry crop to Canada. In fact, California only exports 11.1 per cent of the fresh strawberry crop produced, and of those exports, 73 per cent goes to Canada.
    Nov 15, 2016 5:40 PM ET


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