Driscoll’s Jumbo Strawberries: Naturally More to Share
In the spring and summer months, when strawberry season peaks here in California’s Pajaro Valley, so does the size, flavor and juiciness of Driscoll’s Jumbo Strawberries. With their large size and great quality, our non-GMO Jumbo Strawberries are perfect for sharing with loved ones in desserts, salads, and even on their own. With a bounty of flavor in every bite, they offer naturally more to share.
To learn more about our Jumbo Strawberries, we sat down with Phil Stewart, Driscoll’s Global Director of Strawberry Breeding for North America. We had a fun Q&A session covering a wide range of topics, from what goes on behind the scenes at our Cassin Ranch Research Center, to what makes our Jumbo Strawberries so special—and so delicious.
What does a strawberry breeder do?
Like many jobs in the fruit business, what Phil does changes with the seasons.
“In the winter, there’s a decent chance I’ll be in Florida or Mexico or Oxnard. I meet with the local Driscoll’s breeders and we go through their test plots. There are two primary purposes to my visits: One, I report back on the current status of the breeding program and what the local breeders are doing. Two, I’m there to make sure people have the resources they need, make sure things are on track, and make connections between the programs.”
And when it’s strawberry season here in California, you’ll likely find Phil in the field.
“In the spring and summer, when the local strawberry season picks up, my job becomes a mix of breeding-intensive things and management. I’ll spend a day walking seedlings with my team. On a typical day in the seedlings, I might taste 200 to 250 strawberries!”
Why are Jumbo Strawberries so big?
It all comes down to one word—variety. During our chat, Phil gave us an insider’s look on how the Jumbo Strawberries came to be. “Here in Watsonville, there are two new strawberry varieties, both of which have considerably large fruit,” Phil says.
Jumbo Strawberries are only available for a limited time. When can you find them in stores? “Availability should be best early in the Watsonville season,” Phil shares, “Size tends to fall off as the season progresses.”
Are Jumbo Strawberries genetically modified?
No, our Jumbo Strawberries are non-GMO. At Driscoll’s, we only use traditional and natural methods of plant breeding, like cross-pollination.
As a plant scientist with a background in both classical and molecular plant breeding, Phil gives us a more detailed explanation.
“Classical breeding is making crosses, evaluating plants in the field, thinking about the inheritance of traits in terms of large-scale, servable things—what breeders have been doing for generations. In my PhD program in Florida, I was focused on the genes that produce proteins, genes acting together…There’s a bridge between the two in that ultimately, everything you’re observing in the field is the product of a bunch of genes interacting, so being a breeder who’s fluent in the molecular language is a good thing.”
What do you look for in breeding delicious strawberries?
Since day one, Driscoll’s has been focused on flavor, and our Jumbo Strawberries are no exception. With almost two decades of fruit breeding under his belt, Phil pinpoints what he and his team are looking for.
“When we walk the seedlings, we’re looking for attractive fruit, nice regular shapes, glossy, good color, and size. Both consumers and growers like a good size, so that’s a winner all around.”
Believe it or not, “flavor” isn’t exactly the right word. Phil goes into in more detail.
“Actually, flavor isn’t the word that we use internally—what we call it in our tests is ‘eating quality’ because it encompasses more than flavor. There’s texture, aroma and other qualities that we’re looking for.”
And the most important quality of all? Oh, how sweet it is.
“The biggest single driver on flavor is sweetness, and that’s one that many consumers can miss the most if it’s not there.”
A deliciously fun fact about any Driscoll’s strawberry? “By the time a strawberry is released as a variety, it’s already been tasted over a thousand times,” Phil tells us.
What makes the Jumbo Strawberries so unique?
As Phil shares with us, the early season is best for sweet, juicy Jumbo Strawberries. But besides their great flavor, he shares other things our berry fans expect from these beautiful berries.
“Consumers can expect a pleasantly large size and uniformity with these Jumbo Strawberries. If consumers are looking for a strawberry that’s a real showpiece, these are attractive and uniform strawberries that they can lay out on a dessert. I think there’s an appeal to uniformity, even when consumers cut them up.”
Want to know more about our strawberry story? Check out our Pursuit of Flavor video, where we share an insider’s look at how we breed and grow delicious strawberries.