DOMINIC ESCALAN TE
Red treasure: Each hand-picked strawberry at O.C.
Produce must be the highest
grade to make it to Costco.
Red, ripe and delicious all year-round
Pat Volchok gives a
at Costco products and
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WHETHER IT’S JANUARY or June, Costco members are pampered with big, gorgeous, flavorful
strawberries ripe for the eating in all Costco warehouses. Wondering how in the heck Costco manages such a year-round feat, I recently took a trip to
California and Baja California strawberry country
with Costco produce buyer Todd Eagan.
The right soil, sunshine
On our way to Irvine, California, for a meeting
with Costco supplier Orange County Produce (O.C.
Produce), Todd explains, “For Costco, it’s all about
the best-eating strawberry per growing season.
Since the ;nest-tasting strawberries are grown in
sandy soil and hot-day/cool-night coastal zones, we
purchase the majority of our strawberries from
farms stretching along the Paci;c coast of California
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Don’t forget to check Costco’s
cookbooks for delicious strawberry recipes. Go to Costco.com
and search “Connection.”
;is long swath of land is perfect for day-neutral cultivars, a type of strawberry that produces
;owers regardless of the amount of sunlight. ;anks
to careful timing, it’s possible for Costco to maintain
a consistent supply of these quality berries all year.
At the moment, Costco’s favorite day-neutrals
include ‘Albion’ and ‘San Andreas’. With high yet balanced Brix sweetness scores, no matter if they’re
planted in the summer or winter, both varieties consistently maintain a superb taste pro;le from ;rst
berry to last. ;is is not the case with some other
74 ;e Costco Connection MAY 2010
varieties that tend to break down, turning mushy
and ;avorless toward the end of their growing cycles.
A demand for quality
When we arrive at O.C. Produce, we are met
by Mike Etchandy, the company’s co-owner, along
with Matthew Kawamura and his brother, A.G.
Kawamura, who currently serves as California’s
secretary of food and agriculture.
Mike, who grew up in the business harvesting
strawberries alongside his dad, says, “We are very
proud of the local berries we grow, and thankful
Costco not only demands the best fruit but also
prices them fairly so they sell at peak of ;avor. Other
retailers sometimes feel they can raise prices, but
then the strawberries sit in the stores, and by the
time a consumer eats them they are bad.”
Todd notes, “Pound for pound, Costco straw-
berries are the most a;ordable berry. Over 95 mil-
lion pounds were purchased by members last
year—also making them the top product sold in
Costco’s extensive fruit and produce department.”
All Costco strawberries must be highest-grade
number one; they are hand-picked and hand-
packed one strawberry at a time in the ;elds, and
sent to a nearby forced-air cooler to remove the
;eld heat. ;ey are then shipped to regional Costco
distribution centers and on to warehouses as soon