Cereal companies are often at the forefront of adopting new kinds of preserved fruit. Since freeze-dried fruit has low water content, they're mostly sugar, so buyers like the taste and cereal companies like the fact that they can say “no sugar added” by removing the non-sugar components of an ingredient. These strategies help cereal companies address the growing group of consumers shying away from cereal in favor of a more healthy breakfast option. On the demand side, freeze-dried food is growing in popularity alongside hiking. Covid also accelerated this trend, as people bought preserved foods and experimented with more baked goods.
In parallel, the “ugly produce” business is booming; Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market have collectively raised over half a billion dollars to grow their business of selling produce that tastes better than it looks. As it turns out, the “ugly produce” business has existed for a long time: soups, sauces, and baked goods are often made with pieces of produce that wouldn't look good on a shelf but that taste fine when chopped up and processed. Freeze-dried strawberries are another example of how the food industry repurposes food products that wouldn’t otherwise have strong shelf appeal.
The economics of strawberry production also tie to the rise of freeze-dried strawberries. Strawberries are a very labor-intensive product, with labor representing 50x the share of costs relative to a more mechanized product like corn. When strawberry pickers pick an excessively ripe strawberry, they usually discard it, because it won't stay fresh in time to get to a grocery store. Since the labor component of cost is so high, waste is less of a problem—but it is an opportunity. Freeze-drying strawberries is not only a way to deal with the lower visual appeal, but also a way to preserve them. This has gotten easier since the development of a more complex cold chain, which allows more foods to be transported through cheaper forms of transit that may take longer.