PLANT CITY — The Florida Strawberry Growers Association says Walmart isn't doing enough to help local farmers even though the retailer says it's planning to boost sales of U.S. products over the next decade.
Association executive director Ted Campbell says Mexican-grown strawberries are showing up in Florida stores including the Walmart in Plant City, the winter strawberry capital of the world. The worst part, he said, is Florida growers are struggling amid low prices due to unusually warm weather.
"I understand what they're trying to do, but this is just insulting to our community that depends so much on our local crop, and that's the point I was trying to make, that this is just inappropriate," Campbell said.
About 11,000 acres of strawberries are grown in Plant City yearly.
Campbell's barbs came after Walmart executives released a statement a couple of weeks ago saying the company intended to boost sales of American-made products by $50 billion over the next 10 years.
Then that same day Campbell got word from two local growers that Mexican berries are showing up at the Plant City Walmart at 2602 James L Redman Parkway. One even sent pictures of the berries, including a shot of the "Product of Mexico" label.
Right away, Campbell called the store and its Miami import office and fired off a tersely worded letter to executives.
"Beyond the hypocrisy of your words versus actions, this is an absolute insult to your local customers," he wrote. "There is no greater disrespect to this community than bringing imported strawberries into the center of the primary domestic production area."
He included an online link that touted the retailer's U.S. products push.
On Wednesday, the Arkansas company said it turned to imported berries only because supplies of locally grown berries ran out and that the Plant City store now has Florida berries.
"Since the start of strawberry season in Florida, almost all of our strawberries sold in Florida were grown locally," spokeswoman Danit Marquardt said.
"We typically only bring non-Florida berries into Florida when demand increases beyond the supply of local growers," she continued. "Additionally, we have supported our Florida growers this season by sourcing hundreds of thousands of cases of Florida grown strawberries for Walmart stores in 15 other states."
Campbell isn't buying it and insists plenty of Florida-grown berries are available. The harvest runs Thanksgiving to Easter. He also noted that other grocers, including Sweetbay and Publix, aren't having any problems finding Florida berries.
The imported berries are also showing up at the Brandon Sam's Club, a Walmart affiliate, he said.
"This is about pricing," Campbell said.
Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 661-2454.