Sales of organic berries remain strong, growers say

07/29/2011 10:25:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

Organic berries remain consumer favorites, and most growers who produce them say sales are on the rise.

In California, volume of organic strawberries finally is falling into line with demand, said Dan Crowley, sales manager for Well-Pict Inc., Watsonville.

Organic strawberries were overproduced for the past several years, Crowley thinks, but now acreage is down.

“We’re finding out the true demand for it,” Crowley said.

California has 1,591 acres of organic strawberries this year, down from 1,730 acres in 2010, according to the California Strawberry Commission, Watsonville.

Tighter supplies seem to have triggered higher prices.

In late July, eight 1-pound containers of organic strawberries were selling for $12-14, according to figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A year earlier, they were going for $10.

About 10% of Well-Pict’s strawberry volume is organic, Crowley said, and demand has remained strong throughout the economic downturn.

“I didn’t see any significant drop off,” he said.

“There has been strong demand throughout spring and into summer, and I expect it to continue.”

Growth in the organic category slowed a bit during the recession for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., said Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing. But now, growth seems to be back on track.

“Our organic business has been growing very substantially in all the berries,” he said.

Sales are especially strong on Chilean blueberries.

“That market has expanded very significantly,” Verloop said.

HBF International LLC, Sheridan, Ore., launched a small organic blueberry program this season, said Doug Perkins, managing director.

The decision to add blueberries was not a hasty one.

“We wanted to do it for quite awhile,” he said.

However, the company first wanted to align itself with a like-minded grower so as not to let down the grower or the customers, Perkins said.

The company feels comfortable with its organic grower, he said, and expects up to 10% of its volume to be organically grown.

The entire category, including organic and conventional product, has seen sales growth as consumers discover the quality and health benefits of blueberries, he said.



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