Blueberries are gaining ground fast in California.
“Production two years ago was 29 million pounds,” said Alex Ott, executive director of the Fresno-based California Blueberry Commission. “This past season it was 44 million and still climbing.
“It wouldn’t be surprising if California tops 50 million pound of blueberries in the next couple of years.”
Growers or marketers new to the commodity want to gradually move more.
For Fresno-based Crown Jewels Produce, 2011 was its start in the blueberry deal, with fruit packed in Reedley, Calif., under the Crown Jewels label.
“It was a small deal,” said Atomic Torosian, managing partner. “We’re up over 250% on blueberries. We like to pick up growers who are on top of their game, and we picked up a few.”
California blueberries start in late April in Arvin and move from there to Delano and Kingsburg, said Julia Inestroza, marketing director for Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading Co. Unusually cold temperatures forced frost prevention measures in March that proved successful, she said.
“We had helicopters out and saved the entire crop,” Inestroza said. “We’ve got some really good sizes. The plants are looking good with a good bloom.”
Gourmet Trading Co. offers its SuperBlues blueberries in smaller pack sizes. Larger fruit — 19 millimeters and up — packs under the SuperBlues label.
The new sizes are 5, 10 and 16 ounces, sold in units of 12. The change narrows the price gap between traditional berries and the premium SuperBlues to about 15-25 cents on 6- and 5-ounce sizes.
“The health benefits are there, and we’re starting to see consumers really latch onto blueberries,” Ott said. “Consumption is going up in other countries. Japan is a very good market for us.
“We’re interested in expanding. Oregon opened up trade in South Korea, and California is working on doing the same.”
Other targets include China, Southeast Asia, Australia and India.
“The commission is talking to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council about opening up those areas,” Ott said. “We need to put together a unified export strategy for blueberries. Our job is to help open up markets like South Korea that don’t already have it.”