After a slow start due to the sharp rise in costs, bad weather in the first months of the year, and lack of manpower that has affected the entire sector without distinction, the strawberry growing sector recovered well during the summer season.
The results obtained by early varieties, which are demonstrating their potential in the areas of Southern Italy, are positive. Campania, the first production region, is holding up well with its flagship varieties, Melissa and Rosetta. The positive trend in consumption and prices is also driving the increase in production areas, which record an increase in investments in specialized crops of around 4,100 hectares, +4% compared to 2021, of which 83% in greenhouses and 17% in full field (source Cso Italy).
The novelty this year is that, alongside the substantial stability of investments in the Southern areas, there is also an increase in crops in the regions a little further north (+9%), which, in the past, were in sharp decline. Today over 2,600 hectares are concentrated in Southern Italy, almost 1,000 in Northern Italy, while in the regions of the Centre there are over 500 hectares. As regards the product arriving from abroad, competition from Spain remains strong; this Country manages to produce strawberries practically all year round in the Huelta area, but there is also growing pressure from Greece and Albania, in addition to Egypt and Morocco, even with high quality products.
Strawberry production around the world shows no signs of slowing down. Worldwide, there are many varieties in production, even if those that arrive on the sales shelves are limited and often disappear after a short time.
In the United States it’s time for Omakase Berry, the strawberries from the Oishii company, a luxurious taste experience whose cost is 4 dollars per fruit, up to 50 for a tray of six fruits. We are talking about strawberries grown in futuristic vertical farms dedicated exclusively to top-of-the-range products. But it is known that this is the America of excesses, which stands out even in the fruit and vegetable sector.
But in terms of innovation, the old continent is no less. UK-based Berry Gardens (just acquired by Driscoll’s, Californian strawberry and soft fruit giant) is joining forces with vertical farming giant Jones Food Company to experiment with vertical strawberry production. The aim is to bring British strawberries to the shelves all year round.
Varietal innovation is also travelling at a rapid pace in Italy. Nova Siri Genetics, breeding company from Policoro (Matera), is working on various varieties to bring to the market strawberries with high commercial standards (consistency, resistance, and shelf-life) as well as outstanding aesthetic and taste characteristics. The idea is to cover the 12 months of the year thanks to the productions from Southern Italy dedicated to winter production and those from the North of the Country to summer production.
One of the cultivars that respond particularly well to these needs is NSG 203 – Marimbella, as the spokespersons of the company from Basilicata said. The new cultivar, introduced in Europe in 2019 and awaiting protection in other North African and South American Countries, has recorded exponential growth in Italy, going from 7 million seedlings distributed in 2020 to 29 million planted this year in the areas of Southern Italy, in particular in Basilicata, Campania, and Sicily.
Elodì is the new strawberry, presented at the Macfrut Fair in Rimini and obtained from the Forlì branch of CREA Olive, Fruit and Citrus Growing Centre in collaboration with the New Plant Consortium.
The ripening period of this medium-early variety is shortly after that of Brilla (end of April in the protected cultivation of Romagna); the fruit is suitable, as far as the Emilia-Romagna territory is concerned, both for protected cultivation and in the open field.
It has a good size and excellent aesthetic and sensory characteristics. It is very resistant to handling, a feature that guarantees that the fruit arrives at the stores in optimal conditions.
For Campania, Melissa remains the flagship and continues to give satisfaction to producers. This cultivar from Nova Siri Genetics represents around 50% of the product sold by Coop Sole, company from Parete (Caserta), with NSG 120 (Rosetta brand). The other half is represented by other varieties, including Parthenope and Elide from Civ in Ferrara.
For Coop Sole, commercial activity, too, is going well through Sìbon brand, a premium line reserved for top-of-the-range products. With a production of over 80,000 quintals of strawberries a year, Coop Sole remains one of the major Italian players in strawberry cultivation. The strawberries produced by the cooperative are Zero Residue, while organic production represents 20% of the total thanks to Melissa variety, which lends itself well to this type of cultivation. In terms of packaging, Coop Sole has expanded the use of SìBon package, totally recyclable in paper and already used also for small fruits.
An aim consists in extending the strawberry season, thus arriving on the market as soon as possible or later with early or late varieties that make it possible to obtain greater margins on sales, anticipating moments of great product availability and competition from Spain and the Mediterranean basin.
Arriving earlier with production would solve, or at least distribute, the problems related to labour. May, the month in which Italy has the peak of production, is presented as the most complex month for the strawberry harvest, because in this period there is the greatest demand for labour, increasingly difficult to find.
It is clear that everything is played on varietal innovation to create new opportunities, but this requires important investments, for what remains to all intents and purposes one of the most complex crops to manage, both in terms of production and costs. We must not forget, in fact, that 1 hectare of fully equipped orchard today requires an initial investment of around 60,000 Euros and guarantees an average longevity of 15 – 20 years, while 1 hectare of strawberries requires an average cost of 70,000 Euros, for just one year of life of the plant.
According to the report released by CSO Italy Market Observatory on GFK data, in 2021 this segment was the protagonist of good growth: volumes exceeded 8 thousand tonnes (+34%), corresponding to 8.6% of the total number of strawberries sold in the last 12 months, with a 6% increase in prices, for an average price of €4.60/kg.
The increase of one percentage point in the product penetration index is also interesting: in 2021, 12% of Italian families bought organic strawberries at least once. In 2016 these families were 9% of the total.
The protagonists of this sector speak of a change of course of the market demands traditionally more attentive to the conventional products than to the organic ones, unlike in Northern Europe. The demand for organic products, mainly from abroad, is therefore also being accompanied by the national one, and large-scale retail trade is ready to enhance organic products.
Let’s not forget that strawberry is perceived as one of the most processed products in the fruit and vegetable sector, therefore an organic or zero-residue product could have excellent commercial prospects. Coop Sole seems to believe it, as since 2021 it has been engaged in an important organic promotion campaign with SìBon brand.