Strawberry volume out of California’s Santa Maria growing area was ramping up in early May following a late start this season. Plenty of berries were expected to be available from Santa Maria and Watsonville for Mother’s Day and Memorial Day this year. ( Courtesy California Giant Berry Farms )

Grower-shippers throughout the U.S. report that good-quality berries should be plentiful this summer.

California strawberries got off to a slow start as a result of a cold, wet February, said Rick Tomlinson, president of the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.

But all the rain and cool weather created perfect conditions for excellent quality and production, he said.

“Last year consumers purchased record levels of California strawberries, and we expect to meet that demand again this year,” he said.

By the beginning of April, California’s production exceeded last year, he said.

“Overall, we expect 2019 to be another great opportunity for entire supply chain to meet consumer demand for California strawberries,” he said.

At the same time, the popularity of blueberries in the U.S. continues to trend upward.

The Folsom, Calif.-based U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council shared Nielsen data showing how much retail movement gained in 2018 versus 2017.

Nielsen data covering grocery stores and other retail outlets indicated that sales of fresh conventional and organic blueberries totaled $1.64 billion in 2018 — a $139 million increase over 2017.

In the organic category, there was a 48% increase in pounds sold in 2018 compared to 2017. 

Looking at blackberries, Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms should begin picking in Georgia no later than May 19, said Jose Saca, director of cane berries.

Saca said he visited Georgia in early April and found the plants looking healthy with “plenty of flower buds.”

North Carolina blackberries will be starting in early June, and Georgia should be wrapping up by the fourth of July. At that time, product will be coming solely from North Carolina and California.

Blackberries are grown in California from June until October or whenever the Mexico deal starts, he said.

Overall, the blackberry market looks very good, Saca said, adding that he anticipates increased demand for the fruit.

Things look bright for raspberries as well.

Although Watsonville, Calif,-based-based Well-Pict Inc. sources some raspberries from Mexico and Oxnard, Calif., the company’s major raspberry program is in Watsonville, said Jim Grabowski, merchandising manager.

That deals runs from late April through October.

The company has its own proprietary raspberry variety that produces good size and exceptional flavor, he said, adding that large-size raspberries have become the industry standard.

“I think people will be well pleased with them,” he said.

As with strawberries, growers have been planting high-yielding raspberry varieties in recent years, which has resulted in greater availability and lower prices, he said.

On the organic scene, demand seems to be strong for all berry categories.

Watsonville-based California Giant Berry Farms ships organic strawberries year-round, said Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing.

“Demand is pretty steady,” she said.

But summer can be a tough sell, she said, when tons of berries are in the marketplace, prices drop and the difference between conventional and organic strawberries becomes significant, causing consumers to bypass organic berries.

“It’s really difficult for organic growers to maintain their margins and remain profitable,” she said.

Cal Giant ships organic blueberries year-round from Mexico and California, Jewell said.

The Chilean season was winding down in April.

As with strawberries, organic blueberries have become the norm on produce shelves, she said.

She attributed some of the increased sales to lower prices that make organic blueberries more affordable to consumers.

“That’s not good news for the growers,” she said.

Organic raspberries also are gaining popularity every season.

“They’re still on the upswing,” Jewell said.

Cal Giant has a relatively new program out of Mexico from October through May.

“We’ll see how that stands up,” she said.

Meanwhile, demand for organic blackberries has been “steady,” said Craig Moriyama, director of berry operations for Naturipe Berry Growers, Salinas, Calif.

The company offers organic blackberries from mid-June through the summer months. 

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