Australia’s strawberry growers are appealing for consumers to get inventive with the fruit to help farms survive a devastating drop in sales.

Key points:

  • Lockdowns have had a dramatic impact on strawberry sales
  • Fruit is being heavily discounted
  • Growers are asking people to get inventive with cheap fruit

Prices have crashed early in the season, with lockdowns in New South Wales, Victoria and the ACT dramatically affecting sales to restaurants, cafes and consumers who tend to bypass berries in online purchases.

In one Canberra supermarket, 250-gram punnets of strawberries are selling for as low as $2 for three of them, well below the cost of production.

In Queensland they’re retailing for just $1.50. 

A concerned couple hold a tray of strawberries.

Queensland Strawberry Growers Association president Adrian Schultz and wife Mandy. (

ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols

)

Queensland Strawberry growers association president Adrian Schultz described it as a “slow-moving train wreck”.

“We’ve obviously been very focused on our labour issues and I think we haven’t taken into account the real affects of the lockdowns,” he said.

“It’s having a big impact on the volume of strawberries that we can sell.”

Strawberries for sale $1.50 for 250 grams

Discounted Sunshine Coast strawberries at a Queensland supermarket.(

ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols

)

Restaurant, cafe, dessert and cake shop trade can usually be relied on as growers enter the peak of the season, but that has not happened this year.

“Anecdotally they are purchased less online and are often a spontaneous purchase, because they look so good,” Berries Australia executive director Rachel Mackenzie said.

“They also suit more frequent shoppers as their shelf life is shorter.”

A woman wearing a straw, broad-brim hat smiles while holding a small container of blueberries

Berries Australia executive director Rachel Mackenzie says berry sales have been hard hit by lockdowns. (

ABC Rural: Kim Honan

)

Versatile fruit

Queensland Strawberry Growers Marketing manager Jane Richter encouraged people to take advantage of low prices and think outside the square by oven roasting strawberries to serve with a baked brie.

“Get some strawberries and make jam, or the easier and far more versatile option is to make a simple strawberry syrup,” Ms Richter said.

In some good news for the Queensland industry, a Pick and Pack for your chance to win $100,000 campaign has helped attract workers during a nationwide worker shortage.

So far, 4,381 people have registered and another 2,500 contacts were made direct to farms via the qldstrawberries.com.au website.

For every week worked, they earn points to enter the draw and become one of 10 people who will each have a one in 100 chance of winning $100,000.

Of the 31 farms that joined the promotion, seven snoozed their profile as they had more than enough workers for the season.

Foreign workers picking fruit in a strawberry field.

The Queensland Strawberry Growers Association has attracted workers with a pick and pack to win competition.(

ABC Rural: Jennifer Nichols

)

Ms Richter said large loyalty bonus entry points were on offer if people stayed put with one farm.

It has been a tough season in more ways than one.

It is estimated that extra labour and packaging costs — due to supply of punnets being limited — have added 30 per cent to the cost of production.

“It may result in fields being sprayed in.

“It’s affecting not just strawberries, there are no smashed avocados going out, I can’t imagine what’s happened with milk sales.”

Posted , updated 

Strawberry growers’ plea as lockdowns cause price of a punnet to plummet
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