It has been an interesting season for offshore supplies of fruit, including organic blueberries, as West Coast port traffic has often delayed berthing of freighters for a week or more over the last several months. Despite the challenges, however, there is a strong volume of organic blueberries on the water headed to the United States.
“The majority of the mid- to late-season Chilean organic blueberry crop is en route right now,” said Stephen Paul, who is the stone fruit and blueberry category director at Homegrown Organic Farms (HGO), Porterville, CA. “Over the next four to five weeks, we are going to have the largest quantity of organic blueberries hit our shores this season. We are anticipating having very good volume through the third week of March.”
Stephen Paul, Stone Fruit and Blueberry Category Director, Homegrown Organic Farms
Paul said significant rain in Chile in the last couple of weeks has impacted the blueberry category and late-season varieties, but HGO’s volume of organic blueberries appears sufficient to allow for promotions over the next five weeks.
The port issues, he noted, have been—and continue to be—impactful. He explained that an aerial view of the Long Beach/Los Angeles harbor area reveals hundreds of ships lined up waiting for their turn to unload. “There have been ships delayed a week, 10 days, even longer. That impacts the shelf life of the fruit, which has already been traveling two to three weeks.”
Heavy delays impact blueberry shipments at the Port of Los Angeles
“Over the next four to five weeks, we are going to have the largest quantity of organic blueberries hit our shores this season. We are anticipating having very good volume through the third week of March.” -Stephen Paul
The delays have been caused by many factors, Paul said, including COVID-related restrictions on the number of longshoremen allowed on the docks.
This is HGO’s first year in the Chilean organic blueberry deal, and Paul said a strategic decision to bring the fruit to the US in bulk and pack it into clamshells at the company’s Porterville facilities has proven to be prophetic. Creating the retail packs after the long trip allows HGO to give its customers a fresh pack of high-quality organic fruit.
Homegrown's organic blueberries
Paul said domestic supplies of organic blueberries from Oxnard, CA, are combining with fruit from Chile and Mexico to give a steady supply of organic blueberries currently, but HGO could experience a gap in the late March/April time frame depending upon growing conditions for its southern San Joaquin Valley organic blueberry crop.
In a recent press release, Naturipe Vice President of Marketing CarrieAnn Arias announced the company’s celebration of “FeBLUEary” for the fifth consecutive year. The campaign began on February 1 and highlights the first organic blueberry peak season of 2021. This year, Naturipe is expanding its campaign from traditional in-store merchandising to include popular digital platforms. This ensures the FeBLUEary promotions and deals are available to consumers both in-store and through online shopping throughout the month.
CarrieAnn Arias, Vice President of Marketing, Naturipe
“A lot has changed since our last FeBLUEary campaign,” said Arias. “We’ve seen a shift in the way consumers buy their groceries. We know that now more than ever they are relying on e-commerce to restock their fridges. That is why we’re meeting consumers where they are by bringing our campaign to their favorite online grocery-shopping applications.
Naturipe’s annual FeBLUEary campaign was launched in 2017 to celebrate the industry’s first organic blueberry peak season of the year. While its organic blueberries reach the first promotable volumes in February, Naturipe reports that its organic and conventional berries are available year-round.
Naturipe organic blueberries
“For consumers who prefer organic blueberries, now’s a great time for them to get their hands on the fruit,” said Arias. “Our organic blueberries are fresh, firm, and burst with flavor all year long, and our FeBLUEary campaign is a fun way for retailers to promote the berry when we have record high volumes in February.”
“For consumers who prefer organic blueberries, now’s a great time for them to get their hands on the fruit.” -CarrieAnn Arias
Kyla Oberman, marketing director for California Giant Berry Farms, Watsonville, CA, said rains in Chile have impacted late-season volumes, but there is still plenty of fruit to be sold. “While estimates have been drastically adjusted for the rest of the Chilean season, we still expect to have [a] good, ample supply of blueberries—both organic and conventional,” she said this week.
Kyla Oberman, Marketing Director, Cal Giant Berry Farms
“There is a lot of Chilean fruit currently on the water that will arrive throughout February. On top of this, Mexico continues to ramp up their production. Oxnard’s organic crop has been set back by a few weeks; however, it is looking to come on strong in early March,” Oberman said.
She said it was a freeze event in late January in Oxnard that delayed production, but later-yielding varieties are looking very good.
“While estimates have been drastically adjusted for the rest of the Chilean season, we still expect to have [a] good, ample supply of blueberries—both organic and conventional.” -Kyla Oberman
Karen Brux, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, said that it was good fortune that the rain did not hit earlier. “Fortunately, Chile had already shipped 88 percent of its estimated volume for 2020/21 prior to the rains,” she said. “The estimate for this season was 111,500 tons, and, through the end of January, Chile had shipped a total of 98,504 tons of blueberries across the globe.”
Karen Brux, Managing Director, Chilean Fresh Fruit Association
She added that about half of the total had been shipped to the United States, with approximately 25 percent of the US volume being organic. “We’re really excited about the growth of organic Chilean blueberries in North America,” she said.
Brux noted that the Chilean Blueberry Committee has not altered its pre-season estimate and is expecting exports of another 13,500 tons as the season progresses.