SANTA MARIA, California — Rooting thousands of strawberry plants on elevated tables the first week of October, Oppy, under the Ocean Spray license, began harvesting the first-ever specialty berry pack in the Happy Berry label this month.
The hydroponic tabletop strawberry concept was developed by New Wave Berry, LLC which is a joint venture formed by grower, marketer and distributor Oppy, agricultural investment firm Farmers Gate and family-owned agribusiness Red Dog Management, who is growing the crop in Santa Maria, California.
The newly-constructed high tunnel facility grows protected strawberries on tables raised to chest height, making labor more ergonomically friendly for those planting, tending and harvesting the berries. Growing hydroponically also requires fewer inputs than field grown strawberries — because they are elevated, the ground beneath them does not require the intense fumigation between planting cycles typically applied in traditional production. Berries receive just the right nutrition, at just the right time while dramatically reducing water use, and greenhouse efficiencies enable all of those benefits for year-round production.
“Berry consumption continues to rise, outpacing the growth of other fruit items,” said Oppy Vice President of Categories and Strategy Jason Fung. “While we’re very encouraged to see this, macro level trends facing the industry like land availability, labor, water, sustainability and beyond continue to raise challenges. We seek to do better, and this new way of growing is really going to change things — we believe it represents the future of strawberry growing.”
That future relying heavily on sustainability, Fung noted, sharing that a recent study undertaken by Measure to Improve revealed that the equipment and materials used in the production of a pound of Happy Berry™ strawberries entails 20% less plastic than field grown strawberries. With water challenges for agriculture throughout the world, especially in California, tabletop berries are grown in seamless troughs with a precise irrigation system that safeguards water reclamation and optimization.
“Even with all the benefits of hydroponic strawberries, we know it can be difficult to introduce something new that consumers aren’t typically familiar with,” shared Fung. “Trust goes a long way to motivate a purchase decision, which is why the licensing of Ocean Spray’s logo helps encourage consumers to pick up a new item. Happy Berry™ was the perfect fit for this pack, building a memorable, positive and inviting brand around Ocean Spray’s already established positioning.”
In fact, Oppy’s marketing team has been holding onto the Happy Berry™ sub brand for a number of years — saving it for a berry concept worthy of the name — as it initially received exceptionally positive reviews in consumer testing, shared Fung. Today, the premium gold label appearing on the 12-oz. clamshell features not only the recognized Ocean Spray brand, under trademark license from Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc., and popular Happy Berry™ label, but also key hydroponic call-outs and a QR code to educate consumers on the growing method. More recent testing showed that the brand elicited key attributes like high quality, fresh taste, sustainability and more. As well, the majority of respondents indicated a willingness to pay a premium for hydroponic strawberries.
Bringing field berries to the market for several years with Oppy, owners of Red Dog Management Greg and Donna France said, “It’s been a really exciting project to get off the ground, we’ve had great support from our team and from the industry. We’re thrilled to be working with Oppy to differentiate a mature category and add value for customers and consumers.” The Frances also noted that there has been remarkable interest from domestic workers to be a part of this new line, considering labor is less arduous for those tending to the tables.
“We look forward to welcoming a happy new year with Happy Berry and enlisting many happy markets,” Greg and Donna France affirmed.
Growing, marketing and distributing fresh produce from around the globe for more than 160 years, Vancouver, BC-based Oppy discovers and delivers the best of the world’s harvest. With over 50 million boxes of fresh fruits and vegetables grown on every continent moving through its supply chain annually, Oppy offers popular favorites from avocados and berries to apples and oranges year-round, alongside innovative seasonal specialties. Over the years, Oppy has introduced North Americans to a number of items across its diverse produce range, including Granny Smith, JAZZ and Envy apples, as well as green and gold kiwifruit. Go to www.oppy.com to learn more.
About Red Dog Management
Based in Santa Maria, California, Red Dog Management is a family-owned agribusiness, farming organic and conventional strawberries on 700 acres. Growing up with agriculture friends in California’s Imperial Valley, Greg France dreamed of his own farm at a young age. In 2004 he started Red Dog Management with his wife Donna; their son Aaron now manages operations alongside them. Stewards of their land, the France family believes in a harmonic approach between people, planet and prosperity in their commitment to bringing the best strawberries to market.
About Farmers Gate
Farmers Gate, LLC, based in New York, was founded in 2018 and employs a thematic approach directly connecting sustainable specialty crop production assets and related midstream operations with food industry partners. The firm manages a diversified portfolio of economically scalable, efficient, sustainable and difficult-to-replicate platforms and aims to enhance these platforms through implementation of value-add initiatives.
About Ocean Spray®
Founded in 1930, Ocean Spray is a vibrant agricultural cooperative owned by more than 700 cranberry farmers in the United States, Canada and Chile who have helped preserve the family farming way of life for generations. The Cooperative’s cranberries are currently featured in more than a thousand great-tasting, nutritious products in over 100 countries worldwide. Leading by purpose, Ocean Spray is committed to the power of good—creating good, nutritious food that has a direct and powerful impact for the health of people and planet. All for good. Good for all. For more information visit: www.oceanspray.com