(Oct. 8) In a continuing effort to guarantee availability of its entire line of berries year-round, California Giant Inc., Watsonville, is expanding its acreage in California and Florida, and has established partnerships with growers in Chile, Argentina and Mexico.

The company is projecting sales of 16.5 million trays of conventional and organic strawberries out of Florida and California, 150,000 trays of raspberries from California, 300,000 trays of blackberries grown in Mexico and California, and 1.4 million trays of blueberries from various regions in the U.S. and, for the first time, Argentina and Chile.

The new relationships in Chile and Argentina will be supplemented by 100 new acres of blueberries being planted this fall around Oxnard, Calif., said Joe Barsi, vice president of business development.

“The blueberry deal is very fragmented and to have a year-round program you have to have different areas,” he said. “Currently we have a New Jersey supply, we’re planting our own in California, we have a Florida supply and this is the first season we’ll be shipping heavily out of Argentina and Chile.”

Barsi said the company will be able to make the tail end of the Argentina blueberry season.

“It’s been delayed a few weeks because of cold weather and rain,” he said Oct. 2. “We’re not anticipating any fruit until the end of next week. Chile is also delayed a few weeks. We will have fruit out of Chile starting the end of December and running through the season.”

He said to have a year-round supply of blackberries by 2008, which will effectively double production, it was necessary to go to Mexico to supplement those grown in the Watsonville-Salinas area.

“They will start producing October and go through May,” he said.

Barsi said the company has field people in place to coordinate operations, but there are no plans at this time to establish offices in any of the three countries.

California Giant is expanding its already year-round strawberry capabilities in both conventional and organic through new acreage in Florida as well as the Oxnard and Santa Maria regions of California.

“We’re trying to fill in more of the gap during the early season, December through March, to fulfill customer needs,” said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing.

She said there will be about a 10% increase in acreage in California and 30% in Florida.