Bush berries surge in California

04/15/2011 03:52:33 PM
Mike Hornick

WATSONVILLE, Calif. — Blueberry production is on the rise in California, where growers continue to see the whole bush berry category as a growth opportunity.

A blip on the screen a decade or so ago, blueberries hit the 3-million flat mark in 2010, said Alex Ott, executive director of the California Blueberry Commission. Michigan, the top U.S. producer, was at 3.9 million.

The same year, California produced 138 million flats of strawberries, 22.4 million of raspberries and 2.8 million of blackberries.

“The bush berry category is really on the rise,” said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing at Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms. “We really got into it a few years ago, but with the way blueberry plants produce, the first couple years are low-volume. Strawberries are consistent; volumes will be similar to last year. Blueberries, blackberries and raspberries are still climbing. You’re seeing more and more each year because consumption is increasing.”

As April began, California Giant was shifting blueberry and blackberry production from South America to the Golden State. Growth in South American volume for both blues and blacks was in the 15-20% range, Jewell said, and similar gains are possible in California. The company also grows in Oregon.

Growth in demand is due to the great press blueberries — and to a lesser extent, blackberries — have received for their antioxidants and other health benefits. That’s led to them being marketed, among other ways, as snacks for children.

California blueberries are picked April through the end of July or early August, Ott said. Heavy March rains that affected some other commodities seem to have spared blueberries, which were just starting to bloom.

“We’re concerned to see how the weather transpires, but I think we’re OK,” he said. “The blueberries were still coming out, so they weren’t really blown out.”

Raspberry and blackberry season starts in early May, Jewell said, but doesn’t kick in big until the end of May. It goes through August or September.

“Summer is really when all the berries collide,” she said. “It’s perfect timing for retailers. They can adjust the display space on a regular basis, and advertise one (commodity) while they’re featuring the whole category. The options are great that time of year to create a whole event out of their berry patch.”



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