The only Oregon berry crop that seemed to decline somewhat this season was strawberries, Malensky said. The harvest lasted just over two weeks with the bulk of the crop going to processors in Japan, he said.
Processors will get all of Oregon Packing’s black raspberries, Malensky said.
“We’ve had a good crop, but prices were soft because the processors still have inventory from last year,” he said.
Berry lovers are very fond of the flavor of the black raspberries, Malensky said, but the variety does not sell well as fresh fruit because of its short shelf life.
The latest of the berry varieties at Hurst’s is the kiwi berry, which will be available well into October, Perkins said. A hurdle that kiwi berry grower-shippers have to overcome, he said, is the consumers’ general lack of knowledge about the fruit.
“A big part of our push is education,” he said. “We start with the label and let people know it’s an item that is best when it is a little soft.”
Perkins expects sales of kiwi berries to grow.
“It’s a product people are starting to appreciate,” he said.
Foodservice interest in blueberries grows
Retailers remain the biggest customers for Oregon’s blueberries, but there is growing interest in foodservice, Malensky said. Unlike some other types of berries, blueberries hold well, he said, which is an advantage for foodservice operators.
“They’re just phenomenal to work with because they wait for you,” Malensky said.
Perkins also sees foodservice as an area that “still has tremendous growth potential.”
Shoppers in the Southwest have been slower than consumers in other regions of the country to jump on the blueberry bandwagon, but Perkins said things are changing, especially in California.
He points to that state’s burgeoning blueberry industry as a catalyst for the growing popularity of blueberries among Californians.
“It helps when the fruit is grown in their own backyard,” he said.
The proximity of the harvest does not seem to be an issue that affects foreign blueberry fans. More than 50% of Oregon Packing’s blueberry crop will be exported, Malensky said.
There’s no concern at Hurst’s Berry Farm that its other berries will steal market share from blueberries.
“The growth in blues in recent years has been phenomenal,” he said, “I don’t think the specialty berries are cutting into the blues. I think they are riding the wave.”
A reason for that ride, he said, is that retailers are looking for more space to promote berries in general.
Hurst’s Berry Farm is a grower-shipper, but it packs and also markets for contract growers, Perkins said. Selling berries dictates working closely with retailers and growers, he said.
“We’ve enjoy being in the middle and putting the two parties together,” Perkins said.