A fruitful season should be in store for the summer berry categories, as grower-shippers report ample supplies of good-quality fruit.
A few growing areas have had to cope with some wacky weather, but on the whole, shipments of strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries looked promising for the next few months.
California’s fall-planted strawberry acreage for winter, spring and summer production was 26,982 acres, up 4.3% from 2019’s 25,868 acres, according to the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission.
As of May 30, the state’s growers had shipped about 81.3 million trays. A year ago, the figure was about 73.5 million trays.
Fresh-market volume for the season was expected to reach about 218.5 million trays compared to about 202 million trays in 2019.
Watsonville-based Well-Pict Inc. should be finishing up its Santa Maria deal by mid-June and shipping primarily out of the Watsonville-Salinas area, said Jim Grabowski, merchandising manager.
“Berry quality and size are excellent,” he said.
So far, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, strawberries have had “somewhat of a strange year,” Grabowski said, with lots of ups and downs in the market.
Strawberries are more of an impulse item than a staple, he said. And shoppers tend to make fewer spur-of-the-moment purchases when they make fewer trips to the supermarket.
“People haven’t gotten into a steady buying habit,” he said.
One trend Grabowski noted is a move toward 2-pound clamshell containers.
“When the clamshell first came out, the 1-pounder was the workhorse,” he said.
“Now consumers are finding that 2-pounders are a good value, and a lot of retailers are using that (pack size) as an everyday stock item.”
Last year, U.S. blueberry growers produced 1.2 billion pounds of wild and highbush blueberries, according to the North American Blueberry Council.
President Kasey Cronquist said it was expected that production would increase this year, but that may not be the case.
“We’ve already seen challenges in early domestic harvest that may prevent some of that production to be realized,” he said.
Blueberries will be shipping out of several areas, including Georgia, North Carolina, California, Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, Michigan and New Jersey, between now and fall, said Luciano Fiszman, blueberry category manager for Los Angeles-based Gourmet Trading Co.
There could be a new development in the marketplace later in the season, he said.
“I foresee Peru to start earlier than in years past,” he said.
Peruvian growers will start to pick in June and volume will pick up slowly, he said.
“I don’t expect a crazy flood of fruit too early, but I do expect Peruvian presence in the market earlier than in years past.”
Larger volume of blueberries from Peru should be available in the U.S. starting in late July into August and September, he said.
U.S. berries sometimes are subject to weather challenges, he said, while Peru tends to have more consistent growing conditions.
“Retailers love Peruvian fruit because the fruit doesn’t give them any trouble,” he said.
Heavy volume will create a challenge for Peruvian growers, U.S. growers and retailers who are torn between offering domestic or imported blueberries.
“I don’t know how that is going to play out,” Fiszman said.
Most fresh-market summer raspberries come out of California, said Debby Wechsler, executive secretary for the North American Raspberry and Blackberry Association, Pittsboro, N.C.
Fresh-market blackberries are grown primarily in California and a few other states, including Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Ohio.
“The Southeast has become quite a production area for blackberries,” she said.
Raspberries and blackberries are the fastest-growing fruit categories in the produce department, said Roland Fumasi, vice president and senior analyst for RaboResearch Food & Agribusiness, Fresno, Calif.
Raspberries had a 15.4% compounded annual growth rate in U.S. per capita consumption from 2006-08 to 2016-18, he said during a presentation to the raspberry and blackberry association in March. Blackberries had a growth rate of 11.6%.
Demand for conventional raspberries rose from 216.5 million pounds in 2018 to about 236.4 million pounds in 2019, he said, drawing from U.S. Department of Agriculture totals.
Blackberry movement was down slightly, from 174.4 million pounds in 2018 to 168.3 million pounds in 2019.