Although the spring and summer in Michigan are mostly dedicated to vegetables, and with the country’s booming apple business kicking off in the fall, there are a few fruits that make a name for themselves in the Wolverine State.
Grand Junction, Mich.-based MBG Marketing, partner in Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla., and Hortifruit S.A., has a significant blueberry operation in its home state.
Larry Ensfield, vice president of operations for MBG Marketing, said blueberries are a little behind schedule this year, along with most Michigan vegetables.
“”With the cold and damp spring, we are looking at a slight delay in the crop, maybe up to a week,” Ensfield said. “Early estimates have the production down from 2010 in some areas from winter damage.”
Although Michigan blueberries aren’t ready for harvest just yet, the state’s blueberry marketers expect a great season.
“This spring we’ve seen a huge movement in blueberries,” said Talbert Nething, general manager of Hearty Fresh, Byron Center, Mich. “It’s been an excellent mover.”
Ensfield agreed that berry movement has been strong, even in the still-recovering economy.
“Blueberries continue to enjoy a positive health message with consumers,” Ensfield said. “Along with the health halo, blueberries are just fun to eat.”
Naturipe Farms is in the midst of launching a ready-to-eat blueberry pack called Berry Quick.
“MBG has several partnership for producing value-added products primarily aimed at the foodservice segment,” Ensfield said.
Ensfield predicts the market will become more diverse, moving away from what he calls a one-dimensional approach to the consumer.
“The challenge will be to provide the consumer with an eating experience they will remember and become a repeat buyer,” Ensfield said. “Package size, health and nutritional information, growth of foodservice and blueberry specialty items will be a part of that equation.”
Ensfield said there has been minimal growth in the organic acres in the region, since Michigan isn’t known for its organic produce. Conventional plantings have increased, however, and a couple thousand acres of berries will be reaching maturity within the next five years, Ensfield said.
A few of the vegetable growers, including Sodus, Mich.-based Leitz Farms, dabble in strawberries, melons and apples. Strawberries used to have a much bigger presence in the state, but most growers have given up on the crop over the last decade.
Bruce Heeren, vice president of Belding-based Michigan Fresh Marketing, said the cool spring has been good for the apple trees. He said he expects a better fall this year than last, when frost damaged much of the crop and left the state short.