While organic strawberries are the leading berry item in sales by a wide margin, in terms of percentage the growth in organic blueberry production and demand is leading the category.
Survey after survey over the last few years has detailed this growth, with the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council recently publishing a report showing that total (conventional and organic) fresh blueberry dollar sales rose 34 percent from 2013 to 2017, while volume sales jumped 27 percent. And a recent United Fresh Produce Association report on 2018 third quarter retail produce sales in the U.S. revealed that blueberries were in second place in dollar gains with an impressive dollar increase of more than 10 percent.
These reports indicate supply is not quite keeping up with ever-increasing consumer demand, and this is truer for organic blueberries.
Luciano Fiszman, blueberry category manager at Gourmet Trading in Los Angeles, told OPN that from an industrywide perspective, suppliers of organic blueberries overall are struggling a bit to keep up with demand, and the berries are typically returning a premium price in the marketplace. “It is hard for most to have consistency on an organic program. We have developed multiple locations to be able do to so for our customers,” he said.
Luciano Fiszman, Gourmet Trading
Blueberry Category Manager
However, Fiszman said “the organic deal is getting smoother but still not flat. I see this trend evolving though, and more organic fruit available in the years to come from multiple locations to satisfy demand. We won’t have issues with organic supply this next six months. We have organic supply in Peru, Chile, Mexico and Florida so we feel good about the program.”
Of course there will still be weeks when supply and demand are not in concert. As of mid-November, there does appear to be sufficient supplies to handle demand. Jerald Downs, president of Berry People LLC, Hollister, CA, said this week the market on organic blueberries had dipped a bit because of increased supplies from several sources. He predicted the situation would last through Thanksgiving but by early December supplies would be tight again and that situation may well last into the new year.
Jerald Downs, Berry People LLC
Downs said it is always difficult to match supply and demand on the organic side of the equation, but he did say that from mid-February through March, Chile will be in the peak of its organic blueberry season and there should be good promotional opportunities for retailers.
Fiszman made a similar prediction. “February out of Chile would be a good month to promote organic blueberries,” he said, reiterating that filling the demand for both organic and conventional blueberries requires a patchwork effort. He said Gourmet Trading sources “from Peru up to Valentine’s Day, Chile up to spring break, Mexico from Valentine’s to Mother’s Day, and Florida from spring break to Mother’s Day.”
Karen Brux, Chilean Fresh Fruit Association
U.S. Based Managing Director
Also weighing in on the current organic blueberry situation and speaking to the production side of the equation was Karen Brux, the U.S.-based managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association. “With organic produce consumption continuing to increase, we’re also seeing increased volumes of organic blueberries from Chile,” she said. “During the 2017/18 season, 12 percent of the total Chilean blueberry volume shipped to North America was organic, and we expect this to increase in the coming years.”