With grower-shippers adding growing areas and better varieties of berries, retailers are promoting blackberries and raspberries more often and creating year-round interest among consumers in their nutritional benefits, flavors and uses.
“The level of consumer demand has been growing really robustly in the last several years,” said Douglas Ronan, vice president of marketing for Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, Calif.
He said retailers are promoting blackberries and raspberries more often as consumers become more interested. Consumers are using the berries in a variety of ways, including for snacks and as salad or other recipe ingredients.
Growing demand comes from more consumers buying the berries and from existing berry buyers making more frequent purchases, Ronan said. The trend is echoing the blueberry trend from several years ago, he said.
Driscoll’s raspberry and blackberry supplies typically get going in May then slowly taper off, Ronan said. Supplies were good in mid-July, when the crops were just peaking.
New blackberry varieties could change the market, said Brian Malensky, vice president of domestic sales for Oregon Berry Packing Co., Hillsboro, Ore.
The company is in its first year of commercial production of two new varieties. It tested about a dozen varieties and chose the best ones to grow commercially. The new varieties are sweeter and firmer, with a longer shelf life, which could change how Oregon Berry ships its blackberries.
“Right now, we ship by air to the East Coast because the older varieties break down quickly,” Malensky said.
He said new varieties can be trucked for several days and that would save freight costs.
Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC is experimenting with small volumes of blackberry varieties this season, said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management.
Naturipe is expected to have more blackberries this year than last, Bocock said. The company is shipping blackberries from South Carolina for the first time, and larger volumes are expected from Georgia and California.
The new South Carolina crops were being harvested in mid-July, and harvest was expected to last until early September.
Shipping blackberries from South Carolina completes Naturipe’s year-round supply, Bocock said. It’s a small deal this year, but the company hopes to increase production there next year.
Naturipe’s raspberry volume should also be more than last year’s because of additional acreage, Bocock said.
The company is shipping some new proprietary varieties called Pacific Royale and Pacific Deluxe, which are larger, firmer and sweeter than typical university varieties. Naturipe’s raspberries are grown in California.
Good volumes of Naturipe organic blackberries and raspberries are expected to be available through the month of August, Bocock said.
Malensky said Oregon Berry’s blackberry harvest was expected to begin about July 20 and continue through the end of September, if the weather remained favorable.
The company focuses on the foodservice industry as a market for its blackberries. It’s a small deal for the company, with only about 26,000 flats expected to ship this season.
In July, Hurst’s Berry Farm Inc., Sheridan, Ore., was harvesting blackberries in the Pacific Northwest.
Its main variety is chester, which was expected to start in late July or early August and carry through September, said Doug Perkins, sales manager. The season was delayed by rains in July that typically occur in June. The chester is the strongest blackberry variety for shipping, Perkins said.
Giumarra VBM International Berry LLC, Vernon, Calif., ships blackberries from California, Georgia, North Carolina, Oregon, Texas, Florida and British Columbia.
As the North American season ends in mid-August, the company starts air shipments of blackberries from Guatemala. Blackberries are expected to be available until the end of August, said Bruce Turner, director of operations.
Watsonville-based California Giant Inc.’s raspberry program runs through October, said Cindy Jewell, director of marketing. Summer is the best time of year for flavorful and high quality raspberries, she said.
California Giant consistently has a promotable volume of raspberries available throughout the season. Raspberries are relatively more perishable and more expensive than strawberries, so it’s left up to retailers to decide when they want to promote the berries, Jewell said.
California Giant also offers a year-round blackberry program.