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Wish Farms, located in the heart of strawberry country in Plant City, FL, is moving forward with an array of quality produce and exciting marketing programs in 2013. The company, which has been growing quality produce since 1922, is now third-generation owned.

“In Florida, we grow and/or market strawberries, blueberries, bell peppers, pickles/Kirby cucumbers, grape tomatoes, eggplant, squash and other seasonal vegetables,” President and Chief Executive Officer Gary Wishnatzki told The Produce News March 19.

WishFarmsWish Farms gained 7,000 new Facebook fans through two special promotions at this year's Florida Strawberry Festival. Seen here are some lucky fans who won concert tickets to see Scotty McCreery at the festival. (Photo courtesy of Wish Farms)The Florida strawberry season begins in late November and ends in mid-April. Florida blueberries are marketed from mid-March through mid-May. Mr. Wishnatzki said the bell pepper season begins in mid-November, continuing into early May. And pickle cukes are sold from mid-April through the end of November.

“During this year’s Florida strawberry season, we’ve been relatively lucky in regard to the weather,” Mr. Wishnatzki commented. “We did have patch of warmer weather in January which increased supply and was a factor that led us to process berries during that time. We also had a warm rain in February followed by a cold snap. This was not ideal weather. But luckily, damage was minimal. The cool weather we had in March helped to extend our Florida season a little further compared to last year.”

The season was not without difficulty when it came to labor. “The problem has been trending for several years and has gotten progressively worse,” he stated. “We struggled week to week to get the fruit picked. We did drop acreage in January and early February to keep up with the harvest. This has led to an overall drop in supply. Most strawberry growers experienced labor shortages.”

According to Mr. Wishnatzki, quality is much better this season compared to last year due to improved weather conditions. “Yields per acre are up as well,” he went on to say. “The dropped acreage impacted the totals. But the yields were good in spite of that.”

Blueberry season is arriving in Florida. “Our Florida blueberry season is gearing up and set to start in the next week,” Mr. Wishnatzki said. “This will be our second season operating the Wish Valley Packing House in Umatilla, FL. With state-of-the-art equipment, this season we will be trialing an in-line scanner. Each labeled clamshell has a QR code that will be scanned in-line with specific package information embedded to the code. This will allow us to trace back to each individual grower. Not only is this system a food safety measure; it will be valuable from a consumer standpoint when feedback is shared and submitted via www.howsmypicking.com.”  

Wish Farms markets product to a strong customer base comprised of all market sectors. “We primarily sell to retail chains throughout the country and into Canada,” Mr. Wishnatzki said. “But we do have a wholesale and foodservice customer base.”

Product is packed and marketed under Wish Farms “Misty the Garden Pixie” label. “We also pack a ‘Strawberry Joe’ label. But our focus this year has been increasing the demand for our Wish Farms consumer brand,” he stated.

A number of new marketing initiatives have been implemented this year. “This past October, we launched a new and improved website with a full recipe catalog, grower profile videos and Pixie Post blog,” Mr. Wishnatzki commented. “We have focused on integrating our social presence by connecting our Pixie Post blog with Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram.”

This is the third year Wish Farms has been a Soundstage sponsor at the Florida Strawberry Festival. “We focused on branding throughout the 11-day festival,” he continued. “Signage was displayed in the Soundstage amphitheater. Promotional ‘Did you know?’ videos aired prior to each of the 22 concerts.”

The Pixie Patrol, a promotions crew, distributed promotional prizes and materials to attendees, and strawberries were sold onsite. During the festival, Wish Farms promoted its Festival Concert Ticket Giveaway and Grocery Money Giveaway on Facebook.

“Approximately 7,000 new Facebook fans were gained as a response to the promotions,” Mr. Wishnatzki said.

Wish Farms also partnered with Radio Disney this year. “This was our first season working with Radio Disney specifically at their ‘Noon’ Year’s Eve event held New Year’s Eve day,” Mr. Wishnatzki said. “It helped us kick off the Florida Strawberry season. The event offered fun and interactive activities educating families about Florida strawberries and the health benefits of eating fresh fruits and veggies.”

The company also worked with General Mills on a pack co-promotion. “Consumers received $1 off any Big G box of cereal when purchased with a one-pound package of Wish Farms strawberries. The promotion was created to promote healthy eat-at-home breakfast options,” Mr. Wishnatzki said.