Demand for large packs presents challenges for blueberry growers, shippers

09/12/2011 01:00:00 AM
Tara Schupner

Retailers and consumers want larger sizes of blueberry containers, but importers of the product from Argentina say that country’s unique deal — complete with fumigation requirements, air freight and high inflation — makes packing in larger sizes more difficult than in some other growing areas.

“There has been good demand on the 18-ounce size each season, but it’s all about supply and demand and what will be a good value for the customer,” said Mike Bowe, vice president of Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc., Coral Springs, Fla.

“In the beginning of the Argentina season, the market has been predominantly sold in 4.4-ounce clamshells to give the consumer a better retail price, and then as the supplies increase, the larger clamshells will become more available to help with the increased supplies.”

Joe Barsi, vice president of business development for California Giant Berry Farms, Watsonville, said that at the beginning of the season last year, cases of 12 4.4-ounce clamshells were $38-40.

Shipments from Argentina are expected to start by the week of Sept. 19.

California Giant’s volume will peak from Oct. 31 through Nov. 20, Barsi said, and packing in larger containers will be possible during that time.

“People want to size up, but due to the retail price point, at least 75% of our product will be in 6-ounce clamshells or smaller,” he said.

Likewise, Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla., likely will stick with 6-ounce packs “because of the price point needed to cover the costs of air freight and exchange rates,” president and chief executive officer Gary Wishnatzki said.

The blueberry process market is at historic highs, which will put additional pressure on the fresh market, Wishnatzki said.

Brian Bocock, vice president of product management for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., said Aug. 29 that the market for frozen blueberries was at $2.10 per pound, up from $1.25 at the same time a year ago.

“If the fresh price is too low,” he said, “growers will divert from fresh to frozen.”

President Keith Mixon said SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla., packs quite a bit of its overall blueberry volume in 18-ounce containers, but he said the company likely would do most of its volume in 6-ounce containers until Christmas, when volume from Chile increases.

Despite the challenges, Eric Crawford, president of Fresh Results LLC, Weston, Fla., expects there still will be strong demand for large sizes, he said.

“The trend has gone sharply to 18 ounces, and it’s not just the club stores that want the larger sizes,” he said.

“The quality of the fruit is such that the retailer gets more rings. It’s still a good value.”



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