Despite economy, sales remain on upswing

10/24/2011 09:54:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

Per-capita blueberry consumption in the U.S. reached 33.7 ounces — including 17.8 ounces of fresh — in 2011, according to the North American Blueberry Council.

The 33.7 ounces was up from 32.1 the previous year, and fresh consumption had more than doubled, from 7.3 ounces in 2005-06 to last year’s 17.8, according to the council.

None of that comes as news to blueberry growers, shippers or marketing agents.

“Outstanding,” said Bob Von Rohr, marketing and customer relations manager for Sunny Valley International Inc., Glassboro, N.J. “With the health consciousness of antioxidants, the demand has been exceptional.”

A troubled global economy has not slowed the momentum blueberries have generated over the last few years, Von Rohr added.

“In fact, this year, we had more blueberries in New Jersey and had a 30% increase in volume, and it had no effect on price whatsoever,” he said.

Chile’s blueberry industry is in growth mode, with production expected to peak over the next five years or so, said Tom Tjerandsen, general director of the North American market for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma, Calif.

“Blueberry sales have proven to be remarkably inelastic,” he said. “Shoppers put them on their list and simply put them into their cart once they arrive in the produce section.

“Blueberry sales were up another 30% during the Chilean blueberry season and would have been higher if an early season freeze hadn’t reduced volume coming from some of the southern growing areas.”

It doesn’t matter how much Chile produces and ships, because consumers will buy what’s available, said Keith Mixon, president of SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla.

“Chile’s deal has increased through the years and with the increase, they have not had too much, if any, price deterioration,” he said.

“The biggest thing has been the exchange rate, but as of last week that’s moving in the right direction. They’re very optimistic.”

Chilean blueberry exports to the U.S. increased by 43.6%, for a total of 58,614 tons, compared to 40,806 tons the year before, according to the Chilean Blueberry Committee.

“That was a record, and they’ve been steadily going up,” said Janice Honigberg, president of Washington, D.C.-based grower-shipper Sun Belle Inc., which has increased its own Chilean production.

Production in the upcoming deal is projected to increase by another 25%, and consumers will snap it up, marketing agents predicted.

“Even though Chilean total production in increasing, the demand keeps up,” said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management with Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.



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