Most berries are grown in open fields, but growers are experimenting with protected agriculture.
“Like we see with other commodities, protected environments yield high quality and pristine looking fruit,” said Nolan Quinn, berry category director for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia.
Quinn also said that time will tell if these experiments eventually become standard procedures.
“Some growers are trialing berries in greenhouses. It will be interesting to see if the return on investment makes it worthwhile,” he said.
Matt Curry, president of Curry & Co., Brooks, Ore., agreed that the trend is gaining ground, although it’s still a small percentage.
“The majority of berries are grown in open fields, although protected agriculture is a growing trend for berries,” he said.
“The reasons for this growth is food safety concerns and regulations, of course, and also the ability to help protect crops from weather events such as rain.”
However, these benefits come at a cost, according to Chloe Varennes, marketing manager for Gourmet Trading Co., Redondo Beach, Calif.
“Protected environments provide advantages in terms of early maturing and weather protection. However, it is quite expensive for most growers,” Varennes said.
Quinn said there are also changes with regard to growing locations.
“There’s a lot of excitement about new growing areas for blueberries, chiefly Mexico and Peru,” Quinn said.
In addition, Quinn said varieties are constantly being refined and improved.
According to Eric Crawford, president of Fresh Results LLC, Sunrise, Fla., shippers also are experimenting with shipping and packaging options for imported blueberries.
“Growers and shippers are experimenting with exporting fruit in a bulk pack, instead of directly in the clamshells,” he said.
As the market fluctuates, retailers prefer to keep a steady price per unit on their shelves, choosing to alter pack sizes instead of raising and lowering the price. Unfortunately with imported berries, shippers have to estimate what size packs will be needed before seeing what the market will do, which can result in the wrong size to match the market.
“If we’re predetermining what the market will do, the fruit can come in large containers when the market needs smaller packs, or vice versa,” Crawford said.
By shipping the berries in a bulk container, the fruit can be packed into the appropriate size clamshell once it reaches the U.S., allowing shippers to have a better estimate of what size retailers will want to use on their shelves.
“If we bring it into the country in bulk packs and then pack in whatever size the market demands, it gives customers a lot better opportunities,” Crawford said.