MONTEREY, Calif. — Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., is rolling out single-serve fresh blueberries packs for retail, but chose to debut the concept in the foodservice arena because of the opportunity to boost the berry’s use at restaurants.
Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing, said less than 5% of Naturipe Farms’ fresh blueberry sales go to foodservice operators, compared to 20% for strawberries.
“Somehow blueberries haven’t closed that gap,” Verloop said. “We needed to come up with a different product, different styles.”
The company had 1.5-ounce prototypes of the berry packs at the Produce Marketing Association’s Foodservice Conference & Exposition Aug. 1, but plans call for numerous size options for foodservice and retail customers. Naturipe is initially marketing the berries in rigid heat sealed film packs that come in 3-count 1.5 ounces for retail and foodservice use.
Customized pack sizes can be as small as three-quarters of an ounce for foodservice applications such as pancake toppings, salad or yogurt parfait additions and in larger restaurant packs of several pounds.
Verloop said the foodservice-focused offerings were designed to make blueberries more convenient to restaurant operators to increase berry usage in the channel. The washed berries, in modified-atmosphere packaging, are designed to reduce shrink, allowing berries to remain longer once they arrive at the restaurant — up to two weeks, Verloop said.
A benefit to foodservice operators, Verloop said, is consistent serving sizes as restaurants increasingly use nutrition information on menus. Besides giving chefs a standard size for ingredients in recipes or as a topping, they can be used to provide uniform amounts for side dishes on the children’s menu.
“By making the berries more convenient, there should be no problem getting to more than 5% and quickly to 10% or more,” Verloop said. “This is one of those types of products, a breakthrough that hits on all the things chefs have told us in our research.”
Though Munger Farms, Delano, developed the offerings and supplied the single-serve prototypes at the Naturipe booth, Verloop said the berries will be sold throughout the year from Naturipe Farms’ South American and North American growing regions, which include Argentina, Chile, Florida, Michigan, California and British Columbia.
“It’s a system, harvest to package,” Verloop said. “It includes special grading for which berries to set apart, sizing, then we triple-inspect them, do the wash and then do the packaging.”
Munger Farms added a clean room that is Hazard Analysis & Critical Control Point- and Safe Quality Food-certified to produce the prototype.
“The prototype packaging was made in line with what moms would buy at retail and give to their kids,” Verloop said. “It could also work for other applications, like getting a snack pack out at work.”
Naturipe plans a full rollout at PMA’s Fresh Summit in October in Orlando, Fla., Verloop said.
“Today’s goal is to reach the customers we see are able to help us in the next stage,” he said.
The next step is a live test of the product. The company has done quality control, and now is the time to put it into a sales environment, Verloop said.
Naturipe Farms is owned by Munger Farms, MBG Marketing, Grand Junction, Mich., Hortifrut SA, Santiago, Chile, and Naturipe Berry Growers, Salinas, Calif.
Eastern Editor Doug Ohlemeier contributed to this story.