Consumers from Maine to New York City could see a greater focus on fresh-market wild blueberries this summer as the Orono, Maine-based Wild Blueberry Commission sets out to capitalize on some new consumer research.
As they watched the natural/healthful eating trend grow, the commission’s leadership thought it was logical that consumers might equate wild blueberries with something that’s natural and healthful, said marketing director Mike Collins.
“We did a series of research efforts to see if that was a true assumption,” he said.
It turns out they were right.
Research confirmed that “wild has a place in today’s evolving real food movement,” he said.
“We found that people are looking for foods that are closer to nature, and when you call something ‘wild,’ it immediately puts it in that camp.”
Putting wild on packaging prompts some specific perceptions, he said.
“If it was wild food, people thought it would be healthier, and that it would taste better,” he said. “And they probably would buy more of it and pay more for it.”
And consumers also equated wild with sustainability.
So now, the industry is trying to position itself in the real food movement “in a way that’s pretty compelling,” Collins said.
Since wild blueberries are grown only in Maine and Eastern Canada during a short window — from late July until early September — about 98% of the crop is frozen within 24 hours of harvest to ensure year-round availability.
“That becomes our crop for the year,” Collins said.
The fruit is shipped all over the country and all over the world, often incorporated into granolas, cereal bars, muffins, purees, yogurt and ice cream.
But consumers who live in a swath from Maine to New York City have the luxury of enjoying fresh wild blueberries every August.
“It’s a special time of year, when people can get the fresh crop in grocery stores,” Collins said.
“It’s a scarcity kind of thing,” he added. “Get them while they’re here, because they won’t be here tomorrow.”
If you live outside the area, it seems you’re out of luck.
“They don’t travel as well as a fresh cultivated blueberries,” he said.
Hoping to capitalize on its research findings and boost sales of fresh-market blueberries, which are more profitable to growers than frozen ones, the Wild Blueberry Commission is stepping up its local promotions of fresh wild blueberries this summer.
The commission plans to increase its “Fresh from the Wild” sampling programs in supermarkets, will invite the media to visit the barrens where they’re grown for a firsthand look at the low-bush berries, and will feature growers in promotional materials.
“Wild blueberries are really special,” Collins said. “They have an amazing flavor.”
They’re grown on 10,000-year-old barrens of sandy, acidic soil, so there’s a “huge genetic diversity in the crop,” he said.
“When you pick a bunch of wild blueberries, you get sweet ones, tart ones, tangy ones,” Collins said.
“You get a sort of depth of flavor that you can’t get from cultivated blueberries.”