Blueberries in vogue
When summer arrives, many of the best U.S. blueberries begin hitting produce aisles. With import problems from earlier in the year from places like Chile and Peru, consumers are looking forward to fresh blueberries.
According to the Washington Blueberry Commission, Washington is the highest blueberry-producing state with more than 18,000 acres and produces more organic blueberries than the rest of the country combined. Now, Washington blueberries are in prime season and available in stores.
Tyler Johnson, blueberry commodity manager for Selah, WA-based Rainier Fruit, noted organic blueberries are especially strong sellers these days and expects an outstanding season ahead.
“Last year, people were buying organic blueberries at top levels, and we expect that trend to continue,” he said. “Stores are doing a better job of getting the organic product in front of people.”
Catherine Gipe-Stewart, communications manager for the Yakima, WA-based Superfresh Growers, noted she’s seen an increased demand for blueberries this past year as consumers have been seeking out immune-boosting foods.
“The health benefits of blueberries have been a huge selling point during this past pandemic season,” she said. “Consumers are looking for immune boosters, which they know they can find in blueberries. Blueberries contribute phytonutrients called polyphenols. This group includes anthocyanins, which have the capacity to lower blood pressure and health with cardiovascular health. Blueberries are also loaded with fiber, vitamin C, vitamin K, manganese and potassium, so they are a superfood.”
When it comes to marketing blueberries in the supermarket, Stephen Paul, stone fruit and blueberry category director for Porterville, CA-based Homegrown Organic Farms, noted he’s seeing a trend of more artistic displays.
“I’m seeing it more with the smaller retailers and I think it creates the festivity of the fruit,” he said. “I think the more that they can create a festiveness and get people to enjoy it as a possible fruit, healthy snacking kind of goes hand in hand with it.”
One of the areas that Homegrown Organic Farms looks to improve is on blueberry packaging, seeking out better recyclability products and limiting shrinkage.
“As an industry, we’re open to improve in those areas, and we’re waiting for innovative solutions to help,” Paul said.
With the San Joaquin, CA crop having piqued the past two weeks, stores are flush with blueberries in mid-June and the industry expects a strong summer of sales.
The California Blueberry Commission, whose mission is to support the long-term viability of the California blueberry individual growers, noted that state growers are participating in an innovative data sharing program titled the Blueberry Marketing Resource Information Center (B-MRIC), a reporting system required by the state.
Any blueberry grower who deals with more than 50,000 pounds annually must enter all the pertinent data about inventory, pack styles and pricing data. All California blueberry growers are provided access to the B-MRIC program to keep things fair.
At the end of the season, the California Blueberry Commission will send an annual report helping blueberry growers make informed decisions on their crops and business plan.