Shippers supplement strawberry deals with other berries

02/11/2011 02:18:33 PM
Tom Burfield

A number of companies with strawberry growing and shipping operations in Southern California also produce other kinds of berries in the region to complement their strawberry deals and to provide customers with one-stop shopping.

Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, for one, plans to significantly increase its Southern California acreage of raspberries and blackberries, said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales.

The company also grows a small amount of blueberries in the region.

Watsonville, Calif.-based Well-Pict Inc. has increased its Oxnard acreage of proprietary raspberries that it will plant in the next month or so for late-summer, fall and winter production, said Dan Crowley, sales manager.

The company has grown raspberries in Southern California for about four years.

Watsonville-based California Giant Inc. has been growing blueberries in Southern California for a couple of years, but the program still is ramping up, said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing.

Unlike strawberries, blueberries don’t begin producing until 18 months after they’re planted.

“We’re still in the early stages,” she said.

San Diego-based Andrew & Williamson Fresh Produce just started shipping raspberries and blackberries grown in Mexico, said Mark Munger, vice president of marketing.

Although the program is in its infancy, Munger said the company is “pretty aggressive” and tends to move forward quickly once it launches a deal.

Naturipe boosted its Southern California raspberry volume by 150% after finding two proprietary varieties — Pacific Royale and Pacific Deluxe — that are larger than the university varieties and have good flavor and color, Roberts said.

The company also grows an as yet unnamed blackberry variety there developed by the University of Arkansas, Roberts said.

Naturipe is pleased with its size, color and “nice, sweet flavor,” Roberts said. The company already grew some blackberries in the Oxnard area that also were developed by the University of Arkansas.

Thanks to growing operations in several California districts and in Mexico, Naturipe should be able to provide raspberries and blackberries year-round, Roberts said.

Crowley said Well-Pict’s additional raspberry acreage in Southern California will supplement its Northern California volume and extend availability.

The added volume triples the firm’s Oxnard raspberry acreage, he said.

“Now that we’ve found the right microclimate and the right variety, we’re set up to expand significantly,” he said.

Similarly, Munger said Andrew & Williamson could have started its raspberry and blackberry programs several years ago but decided to wait until it found the best varieties for its customers.

The firm grows its blackberries in the Zamora region of central Mexico and raspberries in Baja California.

Eventually, the company plans to offer a full mix of berries, including blueberries, Munger said.

Demand for blueberries is on the rise, Jewell said.

As volume increases and prices become more affordable, she expects to see shifts in package sizes that will range from 6 ounces, compared to the current 4.4-ounce size for the smallest package, to clamshells weighing more than 2 pounds.

“The goal is to reduce the number of options, eliminating the real small containers and have the mainstream packages be the pint, 18-ounce and 2-pound,” she said.

Domestic blueberries should have a price advantage over imported berries because of added freight costs for imports, she said.



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