Growing berry demand outpaces sluggish economy

09/14/2010 04:14:33 PM
Jim Offner

Whatever troubles exist in Argentina’s blueberry industry, the economy likely isn’t one of them, marketing agents say.

“I don’t think Argentina has any problems with that,” said Dave Bowe, owner of Coral Spring, Fla.-based Dave’s Specialty Imports Inc.

If there are any cost-related problem, they’re paired with logistics, Bowe said.

“Their biggest problem is the fumigation and having to ship by air,” he said.

“That’s why they’ll ship their product via vessel to Europe and various countries over there, and they do a good job.”

Consumers in the U.S. certainly aren’t bypassing berries in a tougher economy, said Mark Villata, executive director of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Folsom, Calif.

“I don’t know if it’s the sign of a recession or that consumers are getting a little bit choosier in where they put their dollars into products that they perceived as healthy,” he said.

“That probably has more to do with it.”

According to a study from the University of California-Davis, per-capita blueberry consumption in the U.S. increased by 93%, from 13.8 ounces to 26.6 ounces, between 1998 and 2008. Fresh consumption more than doubled, from 5.2 ounces to about 12.3 ounces.

The lesson is that economic circumstances don’t seem to matter, said Bryan Ostlund, executive director of the Oregon Blueberry Commission, Salem.

“It’s hard to separate those issues at times,” he said.

“We saw a softening of prices the last couple of years, but that probably had more to do with the rapid increase in the supply side.

“I’m sure the economy, the budgets are tight, and if it’s off-season fruit, sometimes that can be a little on the expensive side. But the industry is so dynamic, it’s hard to pull those things apart and figure what the cause of any of those things is.”

Analyzing the trends is a complicated process, Ostlund said.

Bobby Stokes, berry sales manager with Brooks, Ore.-based Curry & Co., said consumers are looking for berries as a so-called superfood at a time when nutritional interests seem to outweigh economic considerations.

“There’s a constant demand. We’re in a growth curve, even though the economy is down,” he said.

“People want to buy blueberries. There’s more unemployment here in Oregon than ever, but people are buying more blueberries.”



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