The berry business continues to thrive, thanks in part to growing demand for grab-and-go snacks and millennials seeking fresh, healthy food options year-round.
Strawberries remain the king of berries. At Plant City, Fla.-based Wish Farms, growers are introducing Florida Brilliance, a new University of Florida variety that’s darker red than current star Sweet Sensation. Director of marketing Amber Maloney said Wish is also launching a proprietary pineberry, white with a pink blush and sweet, citrusy flavor.
CarrieAnn Arias, vice president of marketing for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms, said the import season looks favorable, with strong quality and volumes expected. Naturipe sources strawberries, raspberries and blackberries from Mexico and blueberries from Peru, Mexico and Chile.
Sun Belle, based in Schiller Park, Ill., continues to grow its Mexican blackberry program, with plans to introduce the Aketzali variety in early 2019.
“It’s a glossy, sweet berry consumers will enjoy,” said president Janice Honigberg.
Honigberg said Sun Belle is also introducing jumbo blueberries from Mexico this season and continues to source ample supplies of organic “Green Belle” blues from Mexico, Peru and Chile, along with goldenberries from Colombia.
Watsonville-based California Giant, meanwhile, is celebrating its first “solid” winter raspberry program, pulling from South America, Florida and Mexico, said vice president of marketing Cindy Jewell.
“It’s also the first year we’re working with Mann Packing and cross-docking in Yuma, (Ariz.),” Jewell said. “This allows us to bring fruit up from Mexico and combine loads with vegetables, shortening the transportation time and increasing efficiencies on the truck for customers buying (less than load).”
California Giant distributes a weekly newsletter on weather and potential disruptions that can affect harvesting and availability.
“We include detailed weather and crop forecasts along with photos to help our customers understand conditions,” Jewell said.
Watsonville-based Well-Pict is harvesting proprietary berries out of Florida and Southern California.
“The quality is looking great, and we expect promotable volumes for the duration,” said vice president of marketing Jim Grabowski.
When it comes to deciding how much to carry of each berry, Jewell said the universal product codes on all California Giant berries provide retail partners with valuable data, including sales by chain, by store and by time of year.
“Data gives us the market intelligence to meet demand and ensure berries are on display every day to get that sale,” Jewell said.
As scientists continue to attribute more health benefits to blueberries and consumers use them in sweet and savory recipes, demand and volume continue to grow, said Victoria De Bruin, marketing manager the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Folsom, Calif.
A report from the North American Blueberry Council notes that blueberry sales from 2013 through 2017 were up 34% compared to 12% for the entire berry category during the same period. Though Chile is the largest South American blueberry producer from November through March, several importers said Peruvian blues have become a hot commodity.
“Retailers are really liking the quality and flavor,” Maloney said.
According to a recent report from San Diego-based Interactions, 81% of shoppers have purchased an item on impulse after experiencing a product demo.
“The amazing versatility and appeal of blueberries in sweet and savory dishes makes them ideal to feature in demos,” said De Bruin, who has seen retailers showcase recipes from smoothies and energy balls to sparkling cocktails.
After positive feedback last year, Maloney said Wish Farms is committed to in-store strawberry sampling on a larger scale this winter, complete with a demonstrator who can talk about the farm and the variety. She said sampling Sweet Sensation berries is helpful because consumers may think their lighter red color means the berries are less ripe or sweet, which is not the case.
But the biggest key to selling more berries is to offer great-tasting varieties.
“If they don’t taste good, consumers won’t buy them week after week,” Maloney said.
“Consumers want that connection, especially in organics,” Arias said. “We continue to see millennials driving consumption of organic berries, purchasing them at a rate twice as fast as other generations.”
Where to display organics is based on retailers having a clear understanding of what their shoppers want, Jewell said.
“Some retailers prefer a complete organic destination, while others place berries side by side so consumers can decide on the spot,” Jewell said.
As berries remain an impulse purchase based on looks, “our focus remains on quality for both organic and conventional,” Jewell said.
Though bright, colorful berries practically sell themselves, cross-promoting berries with ingredients for recipes, sweet and savory, help retailers sell more berries and boost sales of additional items, said Grabowski.
Keep 'em cold
Keeping berries cold from field to store improves shelf life and sales, growers agree.
Grabowski said retailers should also make sure humidity is at the right level in-store.
“As little as a one-hour delay in cooling can adversely affect berry quality and hasten spoilage,” Grabowski said.
De Bruin said a number of large and small retailers have added rolling refrigerated cases inside the produce department and in other sections of the store as secondary displays to take advantage of cross-merchandising opportunities.