MONTEREY, Calif. — July is national blueberry month, so what better time to catch up with the world’s largest producer of organic blueberries—Naturipe Farms. Director of Business Development Brian Vertrees joined OPN to talk about the history of Naturipe’s organic blueberry program, why the organic blueberry category has been growing so quickly, his thoughts on future growth, and more.
When and why did Naturipe begin its organic blueberry program?
Naturipe recognized the importance of the organic category over 15 years ago and has steadily invested in it ever since to ensure we are in front of consumer demand. Our organic blueberry farms were the first in the industry to produce at a commercial level. Additionally, we were the first to have a year-round supply of organic blueberries. And more recently, we have increased our supplies on the shoulders to provide an even more robust offering for our retailer partners.
Of all the organic berries Naturipe sells, are blueberries the most popular?
Honestly, all of the organic berries complement each other and work together to drive sales at retail. That said, organic blueberries and organic strawberries combined make up the biggest percentage of the organic berry category. Organic raspberries and organic blackberries continue to make great gains, though.
Where do you source your organic blueberries from?
Naturipe grows in some of the best organic blueberry locations in North and South America— including Washington state, Oregon, California, Florida, Georgia, and New Jersey, down to Mexico, Peru, and Chile. These locations provide surety of supply when in season and allow us to provide organic blueberries all year round without any gaps.
Do you offer exclusively fresh organic blueberries, or do you also offer processed organic blueberry products (dried, frozen, concentrate, powder, etc.)?
Our core focus is on the fresh business of organic blueberries, but we do have a separate division that sells organic blueberries as an ingredient for other companies to use.
How is this year’s organic blueberry crop looking? Has the drought and heat in the West negatively impacted it at all?
The recent heat wave in the Northwest was a major concern. We had a two-week-plus stretch with temperatures above 100 degrees and multiple days above 110 degrees. That said, the crop made it through surprisingly well with minimal damage in most regions.
The heat has pushed the Northwest crop ahead faster, so we will see volumes come off sooner in August. However, we still anticipate our domestic organic blueberry supplies to continue through September. Recent field evaluations show the fruit looks excellent, so we are expecting a very strong finish to the domestic season.
It’s worth noting as well that with the Northwest volumes coming off a little sooner than normal this year, Naturipe’s Peruvian growers will be on deck to help offset some of those reductions in volume. So we expect to have a steady supply as we wrap up domestic production and transition into our imported fruit.
Organic blueberries have been a very fast-growing item in recent years. Why do you think that is, and do you expect the category to continue to grow at the same rate going forward?
A lot of factors have contributed to the growth, but I will highlight two specifically. Probably the biggest factor driving growth in the organic blueberry category is the increase in industry supplies. Even 10 years ago, we still had significant gaps in supplies. Now that those have been filled in, we’ve seen consumers jump on the extra supplies the industry has been able to provide.
Additionally, the quality of the organic blueberries going to market keeps getting better. At Naturipe, we have our own proprietary breeding program, and we’ve continued to release new varieties that have given consumers an exceptional eating experience in terms of texture, complexity of flavor, etc. This helps increase consumption and brings consumers back for more.
In terms of future growth, there is still room, but we are anticipating it will be at a slower rate. Instead of double-digit growth, we expect growth will likely be in the single digits. The organic category in general is experiencing a slightly slower rate of growth as organic supplies have increased across the board to better meet current demand.
Do you have any favorite organic blueberry facts—things that would be helpful for retail marketing and consumer education efforts?
One cool fact about blueberries is that they are one of the only foods that are naturally blue in color. The blue color is produced by the anthocyanins within the blueberry, which are also the main compounds that provide all of the amazing health benefits. Anthocyanins have antioxidant, antimicrobial, and anti-inflammatory properties, and research suggests they are protective against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
— Organic Produce Network
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