Late-season blueberries out of the West will come just in time for the East, where weather and other factors have cut into supplies, marketers say.

The changes in supply this year means Redondo Beach, Calif.-based Gourmet Trading Co. is supplying British Columbia berries to East Coast customers during the late-season deal, said Luciano Fiszman, blueberry category manager.

“Typically, we keep those berries in the West. However, this season, there is a shortage in the East and we’ve had requests from the East,” Fiszman said.

British Columbia’s blueberry production should peak through August and could last into early September, Fiszman said.

Then, Peru and Argentina get into the market, keeping late-season supplies going, Fiszman said.

“They should start ramping up in volume in August and arrive in late August and early September,” he said.

British Columbia was facing a few issues as its blueberry deal approached, said Eric Crawford, president of Sunrise, Fla.-based Fresh Results LLC.

“Due to poor pollination and the issues it’s creating there is lower production overall and variable sizing,” he said. “They’re having issues with the fruit being smaller than normal.”

Production in British Columbia could be down between 30% to 50% from original projections, Crawford said.

Quality seems very good in general, though, he said.

“Oregon, Washington and British Columbia are working at much lower production figures than originally anticipated, and collectively everyone seems to be on the same page there,” Crawford said.

 

Prices

That means higher prices, Crawford said.

How much higher was hard to figure, he said.

“Industry-wide, everyone agrees prices are substantially higher than anyone had projected and they’re expected to remain somewhat stable, so we’re expecting higher prices for the rest of the season, and that’s because there is reduced production,” he said.

As of July 14, blueberries from British Columbia packaged in flats containing 12 1-pound cups with lids were $15-20, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

A year earlier, the same product was $8-12.

By September, there likely will be an overlap among supply sources, with early Argentinian and Peruvian field-grown fruit, along with early greenhouse-grown Chilean fruit starting by Sept. 15, Crawford said.

“You’ll start to have the offshore influence kicking in by early September, and a big factor will be Peru,” he said.

In mid-July, blueberry suppliers were “incredibly tight,” said Jason Fung, berry category director with the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group.

“We see tremendous weather events popping up that are so beyond the normal expectations, and certainly that’s what’s causing fluctuations,” he said.

“As plantings continue and those plants mature, the global supply of blueberries is quickly approaching a critical point.”

Meanwhile, demand and consumption is growing at around 10% to 12% per year, Fung said.

The Southern Hemisphere’s production plays a key role in keeping supplies coming, he said.

“If we consider there’s a lot of production still going into the ground in the Southern Hemisphere that hits that September-March time period, we transition from this bell curve (of supplies) to a flatter curve, which gives us an everyday item that we can add value to our retailers and get some exciting promotions behind it,” Fung said.

Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms anticipates “steady production” out of the Pacific Northwest into September, said Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing.

“We have fruit coming in from British Columbia and Oregon for the next several weeks, and the crop looks great,” she said.

Yakima, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co. started its late-season organic blueberry crop around July 1 and expects shipments to continue through the end of September or perhaps into early October, said Andy Tudor, vice president of business development.

“The fruit looks good,” he said.

“We should get somewhere total (annual) tonnage around 15 million pounds this year, which would be about 10% more tonnage per acre this year.” 

 
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