Cold weather delaying the bloom period for California’s organic blueberry crop has created a demand-exceeds-supply situation for the category.
“Demand has exceeded supply for blueberries in the past couple of weeks,” said Markus Duran, director of bushberry supply for California Giant Berry Farms in Watsonville, CA. “As far as organic supply, we do not foresee promotable volumes until mid-May for the Memorial Holiday.”
Markus Duran, Director of Bushberry Supply, California Giant Berry Farms
Duran did note that his company does have consistent supplies presently as it is currently harvesting organic blueberries from Oxnard, CA, and Mexico. “Our volumes through April-June will be consistent. Mexico is producing peak volumes currently, with Oxnard forecasted to peak mid-April through early-May,” he said. “Our Central Valley, CA production will carry us through the end of June, which is when our Pacific Northwest season begins. Our supply from April to June is projected to be 30 percent higher than last season. This is due to younger plantings gaining maturity and new grower partners joining the California Giant Berry Farms’ team.”
He added that blueberry demand is traditionally at its highest point this time of year for both conventional and organic blueberries, which is a significant factor in the demand-exceeds-supply situation.
“Demand has exceeded supply for blueberries in the past couple of weeks.” - Markus Duran
Carson Evers, who is the berry buyer for Earl’s Organic Produce in San Francisco, confirmed that currently “the organic supply situation is pretty dim.”
Carson Evers, Berry Buyer, Earl's Organic Produce
On March 28, he said supplies from Mexico are winding down, and California production has barely kicked in. “A combination of rain and cold weather has slowed down the crop. It has not been warm enough to color the fruit so it can be picked and packed,” he said. “We need a decent weather stretch [in California] to get it moving.”
Currently, Evers is hoping that warm weather comes soon, and there is some good volume by late April. “We are in a little bit of a gap right now,” he said. “Traditionally we gap around this time of year, and I don’t see that changing until they figure out how to best grow blueberries under hoops.”
“A combination of rain and cold weather has slowed down the crop. It has not been warm enough to color the fruit so it can be picked and packed.” - Carson Evers
The Earl’s buyer said the market price is reflecting the gap situation. “Mexico’s organic blueberries are in the low to mid-$30s, and the little amount of fruit available from California is creeping into the low $40s.”
He added that because of the high prices, the 6-ounce basket is currently the most prevalent on the market. “Once volume starts, growers will start packing in pints and 18-ounce clamshells. And we should see some 2-pounders once we get into June and July.”
California Giant Berry Farms organic blueberries
Evers said the organic berry category in general has limited volume as strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries are also facing supply challenges. “We are seeing crazy markets going up and down with bursts of volume, followed by gaps, as growers try to strip the plants in between rainstorms.”
“Mexico’s organic blueberries are in the low to mid-$30s, and the little amount of fruit available from California is creeping into the low $40s.” - Carson Evers
He said this has created a situation where shippers are afraid to give quotes a couple of weeks out as they just don’t know if they will have the volume. “There are not a lot of berry options for Easter [April 9],” he said, speaking of that holiday weekend that typically offers great ad opportunities for the category.
Stephen Paul, category director at Homegrown Organic Farms (HGO) in Porterville, CA, said, “We are not going to have organic blueberries until mid-May. There are a few coming out of San Diego and Oxnard right now, but the San Joaquin Valley, which is where we grow, is experiencing a two-week delay.”
Stephen Paul, Category Director, Homegrown Organic Farms
He noted that last year HGO had pretty good volume by the end of April, but that’s just not going to be the case this year. He explained that this year’s bloom was tardy, and the resulting fruit is following suit. “The crop is going to be late. How late is weather dependent,” he said on March 29. “We just have to see what level of heat index we get over the next 30-45 days.”
Paul said grower-shippers need to be talking to the retail community and get them prepared for good, promotable volumes in late May. “It has been my experience that an early start stretches out the season, but when you start late, they bunch up. There is a high probability that, as an industry, we will have very good volume once we get going. Hopefully, retailers will be ready with their ads because we should see good value and lots of volume.”
Homegrown Organic Farms organic blueberries
He said the current market price is strong, but that will change when warm weather arrives and the volume pops. “The industry needs to get quality info to their retail partners,” he opined. “When the volume hits, we are going to need big promotions.”