Naturipe Farms seeing strong demand for blueberries
Naturipe Farms is among the largest supplier of blueberries in the world and has been selling blueberries to consumers for more than 70 years.
“There have been a lot of changes over the years,” said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management at Naturipe Farms. “We have evolved from pulp fiber and cellophane containers to clamshells in 1992 and Naturipe Farms lead that charge.”
The blueberry category has grown significantly over the years. Blueberries went from being a specialty crop only available fresh for a few months a year to now being available 12 months a year.
“The health benefits of blueberries really started in the 1990s and has not slowed down,” Bocock said. “This became even more relevant at the onset of the pandemic as blueberries offer immune-boosting nutrients consumers were looking to fuel their bodies with to avoid illness.”
According to IRI, berries lead the charge in total dollar sales in retail. Additionally, blueberries are second behind strawberries within the berry category.
“So, if you want to be competitive in the berry category it’s crucial to offer not only significant, high-quality strawberries, but also equally superior blueberries,” Bocock said. “Our grower-owners are also focused on constantly striving to develop varieties that meet consumers’ ever evolving demands. With all those changes and dynamics, New Jersey started the commercial Blueberry deal in the 1930s, and continues yet today to be a key producing area. From the Mid-Atlantic states to New England, there is no better blueberry than a New Jersey blueberry.”
The variety that is planted the most in New Jersey is called Duke, named after Duke Galletta whose farm today produces exclusively for Naturipe Farms.
Despite the challenges of the pandemic, the berry category had a good year and that was true for Naturipe Farms.
“As consumers looked to fuel their bodies with immune-boosting foods that could help them fight the COVID-19 virus, they turned to berries which are known to have several health benefits,” Bocock said. “This drove demand of fresh fruit and vegetables, especially for berries.”
He added that production from other countries is really filling in traditional production low points and keeping the shelves filled for consumers to have blueberries 12 months a year. This, however, is putting some pressure on domestic grower profits.
“The best way to expand blueberries in 2021 and beyond is to continue to listen to customer and consumers’ wants and needs,” Bocock said. “At Naturipe, that’s what we do. We’re always listening, researching, and innovating ways to bring more of what our customers and our consumers ask for.”
Therefore, he noted success comes from paying attention to customers and consumers and being ready to change to their desires.
“Additionally, focus on selling locally grown blueberries,” Bocock said. “There is no better place for locally-grown blueberries in the Mid-Atlantic states through the Northeast than New Jersey.”
The bloom this year has been very good and as a result, Naturipe Farms expects this year’s season to be even better than last year’s.
“Overall crops in most areas look good,” Bocock said. “That being said, North Carolina had a horrible hail storm that really hurt their crop and labor issues in some areas are affecting the volumes being produced. The demand for blueberries is at an all-time high so expect prices that work for the grower and put the retailer in a position to be successful.”
The U.S. consumer is not backing off of blueberries. They are demanding bigger packs as families want more than just a pint.
That’s why Bocock believes it’s important to sell bigger units, with 18-ounce and 2-pound clamshells being great options.
“Stores should always have big displays to create impulse purchases and push blueberries on their social media to generate online purchases for curbside pickup,” he said.