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Sonny Boy Produce expects to handle more New Jersey blueberries

By
Gordon M. Hochberg, editor emeritus

Recent weather in southern New Jersey has been pretty good for blueberries, according to Thomas Consalo, president of Sonny Boy Produce in Vineland, NJ.

“During some of the pollination we saw some windier weather, which made us a little bit nervous for the times that the bees really needed to work,” he said. “But it did settle down and allow them to work through the fields as needed. So over all it’s been favorable.” As to when the berry harvest would begin, he said, “Right now we don’t have any reason to think that it won’t be right on a normal schedule for between the 14th and 16th of June. That’s how we’re seeing it right now.”

And for the upcoming season, the company expects to handle a lot more New Jersey blueberries. “Last year we probably ended up shipping somewhere around 2 million pounds” of Jersey blues, said Consalo. “And this year I would project somewhere around 3.5 million pounds.”

Why the expected jump? “What it will be attributed to is partially we’ll start to see some of the fruits of our labor in the nursery,” he stated. “So, we’ll start to see some fruit come from that. We’re kind of able to expand our reach with some of our partners, some of the people that we’ve already been working with.”

In other words, “Some of the people that we’ve been working with in the past have agreed to pack more fruit for us,” he said. If the projected 3.5 million pounds come to pass, it would be the largest volume for Sonny Boy Produce since it began in 2018. “We’re excited for the year for sure,” said Consalo.

As to berry size, “We anticipate good size berries right out of the gate,” he said. The company handles Duke, Bluecrop and Draper varieties. “We’re concentrating on our Draper nursery more so than implementing any new varieties,” said the company executive. “We are looking ahead and doing our due diligence on varieties for the future, but for this year specifically we’re really concentrating on the Draper nursery that we’ve been nursing along the last few years.”

All of the company’s Jersey blueberries will be shipped in the Sonny Boy label. Blueberries as a whole are Sonny Boy’s single largest item, and the largest portion of the blueberries comes from the Garden State.

“For us they’re special because they are right here at home,” he said. “We are able to monitor the entire process rather than do it remotely as we do throughout other parts of the year. And not for nothing, we get the most positive feedback from all over, not just from our local customers. Everybody seems to like the flavor and the size of the fruit out of Jersey.”

Going into more detail on the company’s comprehensive blueberry program, Consalo explained it this way: “We’ll ride out the Jersey season as long as possible. And some of the later varieties will take us through the month of July and even into August. From there, we do ship from Michigan and British Columbia, which takes us to about the beginning of October. And actually, this year we’ll start to see Peruvian fruit as early as August and September, which is newer for us.”

He continued, “We’ll utilize our programming in Peru and then Argentina to bring us all the way to the holiday season. And right around the holiday season or new year is when the Chilean import season will start. That transition will take us all the way around until domestic fruit starts again in early April, which is when Florida starts. So, we utilize Florida as well as Mexico at that time until Georgia starts, which is usually mid-May.”

 

Gordon Hochberg

Gordon Hochberg

About Gordon M. Hochberg  |  email

Gordon M. Hochberg was born in New York City, and grew up in Westchester County, NY. He earned a bachelor of arts degree in history from Lafayette College in 1973.

He started his career at The Produce News in the late 1970s, and has been with the publication ever since.

He served on the Board of Trustees of the New Jersey Agricultural Society from 2012 to 2018. He currently serves on the Southeast Produce Council’s Board of Governors.

He enjoys music, theater and reading (American and ancient history are his favorites). And he’s been a lifelong fan of the New York Yankees since attending his first game in the late 1950s. He and his wife, Kathi, have been married since 1974.

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