|Demand for frozen blueberries in the US has grown much higher than before the Covid-19 outbreak. / Photo by Stockshakir via Shutterstock|
Demand for frozen blueberries in the US has grown much higher than before the Covid-19 outbreak, reports fresh produce industry portal FreshPlaza.
Ramping up blueberry production in the US
As the blueberry season in Florida draws to a close, other regions in the US have boosted their blueberry production. US Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC) President Kasey Cronquist said that Mexico, California, and Georgia are in full swing and North Carolina is also preparing to begin their production. As we head into the summer season, blueberry production will then move north throughout Canada and the US. USHBC supports farms through education, research, and promotion while increasing awareness and consumption of blueberries.
So far, the total volumes have been good compared to last year. The quality of the perennial flowering plants has also been great and the supply side remains strong. The USHBC has also been maintaining momentum although there are challenges in the supply chain caused by the pandemic.
Demand for fresh and frozen blueberries
Before the virus outbreak, demand for blueberries was “about average,” says Cronquist. However, in the last six to eight weeks, USHBC saw significant changes in US consumer behavior. Demand for fresh blueberries surged but it soon softened; this is not what happened for the frozen blueberries. The latter’s demand grew much higher than before the pandemic hit the country.
|Blueberries contain iron, manganese, vitamin K, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. / Photo by Maria Dryfhout via Shutterstock|
Cronquist said that on the frozen blueberry side, they were prepared to supply the market for the increased demand. They have been making a few adjustments. Some processors have begun their operation an extra day per week. There were also enough blueberries put in cold storage that can be quickly and easily moved into the retail market.
The USHBC president adds that the increase in demand helped alleviate the loss incurred by processors that are supplying the foodservice industry by redirecting the blueberries into retail.
The “health halo” for fresh blueberries
The fresh blueberry is also enjoying a good marketing campaign, resurging the “health halo” of blueberries because of the health crisis. As people are purchasing more healthy items, fresh blueberries are in a good position to meet consumer preferences. The Council launched a new campaign called The Blueberry Method on April 15th. Its purpose is to highlight the benefits of blueberries, like the fact that it is a good source of vitamin C and antioxidants.
Registered dietitian nutritionist Megan Ware, who is not a part of the USHBC, shared that a cup of blueberries provides 24% of a person’s recommended daily allowance of vitamin C. While there are studies that claim freezing blueberries can diminish the potency of berries’ health benefits, Ware believes more research is still needed since blueberries have been strongly linked to different elements of healthful living.
For instance, blueberries contain iron, manganese, vitamin K, magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. Each of these helps maintain bone structure and strength. The fruit also helps prevent skin damage, lower blood pressure, and manage diabetes. The folate, vitamin C, potassium, fiber, phytonutrient, and vitamin B6 content in blueberries also supports heart health. A UK study shows that anthocyanin content in blueberries can reduce about 32% risk of heart attack in young and middle-aged women.
USHBC continued to state that blueberry ads in the country will help drive repeat and impulse purchases. Cronquist concludes that the marketing campaign contains great messages. There are also whimsical and fun aspects to the ads that will help people relate in light of the situation we are all facing. He said the ads received a great response from the US consumers.
USHBC’s April 2018 executive summary report shows that a total of 377m pounds of blueberries were sold in 2017, a 27% change from 362m pounds in 2016.
The berry category ranks first in total produce with $6.5 billion in annual sales, followed by apples ($4.4 billion), lettuce ($4.2 billion), grapes ($3.7 billion) tomatoes ($3.7 billion), bananas ($3.5 billion), potato ($2.9 billion), melons ($2.7 billion), and bagged salads ($2.5 billion). In the berry category, the blueberry has a total of $1.4 billion annual sales and strawberries remain the largest berry segment.
Frozen blueberry sales data
In 2016 frozen fruit sales, blueberry ranked third. The volume sold for frozen blueberry fruit was 50.9 mm pounds or 14.7% of the total pound share. The volume sold for frozen strawberries, on the other hand, reached 77.8 mm pounds or 22.5% pound share. Other top frozen fruit products are mixed fruit (44.6 mm pounds, 12.9% pound share), mango (17.7 mm pounds, 4.9%), peach (10.9 mm pounds, 3.2%), pineapple (10.0 mm pounds, 2.9%), wild blueberry (9.0 mm pounds, 2.6%), triple berry blend (6.6 mm pounds, 1.9%), and dark sweet cherry (1.8%).
Demand for blueberries also surged in Peru. Consulting and investment services provider in agribusiness Terra Business SAC’s General Manager Federico Beltran told FreshPlaza that one of the few positive aspects of the pandemic is that it enabled the agribusiness in Peru to develop a period that does not match the main export window for several products, including the blueberry. Peru’s blueberries are mainly marketed abroad. Between January and February this year, the leading role belongs to Chile and other producers. However, Peru expects a “strong rearrangement” in the coming months.
Beltran, who is an agricultural engineer by education, thinks that by July, things will be more fluid and organized and people in the country will be more interested to consume healthy products, including blueberries. He also said that “the country will have 20,000 hectares of blueberry in the next five years.” Last year, Peru’s total berry export reached 10,963 hectares.
He further opined that producers in the country should not neglect the fields and the exported product must maintain its high-quality characteristics, which means good quality, appearance, flavor, and firmness. Many firms in Peru achieve it as they have developed high-quality standards for the past 15 or 20 years in the business, helping the Peru agribusiness sector grow so fast.
Post-harvest is also as important as the production of blueberries. A challenge the sector faces is the distance of the Peruvian blueberries. Most are sent to the US, China, and Europe but it normally takes 30 days for the export, putting Peru at a disadvantage against other producers that are near the borders of the US. Mexico, for instance, only takes 2 days to deliver its product to the US.
The peak of the US and Peru blueberry season is now in sight and growers just have to match the growing conditions to enjoy good returns.