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Naturipe Farms prepares for blueberry season, looks to New Jersey

Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Naturipe Farms, based in Salinas, CA, is ready for the blueberry season to kick into high gear and said after optimal quality coming from Florida and Georgia, the season is already experiencing good availability of quality, fresh blueberries, something that is only going to get better.

“The spring has been a bit challenging with the weather that we’ve had in both the Southeast and the West Coast, but we’re on the verge of getting into the summer blueberry season, and we expect strong production from late June through August,” Flores said. “We’ll get to the point that we’ll have good crops and we should see steady blueberry volumes and kick off some really strong promotions for the summer.”

A freeze event on March 16 really affected the crop in the Southeast, and California has seen some cooler, wetter weather than expected in the spring, which delayed the crop by 7 to10 days, but projections based on what the company was seeing in early June still call for a strong season.

The grower-owned company saw Florida bounce back from less-than-expected results in 2016 as far as volumes, but Georgia and North Carolina are both expected to be down a little this year because of the freeze. California is projected to be similar to 2016.

“Areas that have potential to have stronger years include New Jersey and Michigan, which at this point are both poised to have pretty good crops,” Flores said. Meanwhile, Oregon and Washington both look pretty good coming into the season, though there are some questions as to how well the crops were pollinated in Washington state and British Columbia.

“I think we’re going to come back to stronger volume as an industry as we get to late June through August, but it’s more good, steady supply as opposed to a huge breakout,” he said. “There are different factors that may control whether Michigan is going to have a larger crop historically, and we are keeping an eye on that.”

One place where blueberry production is growing for the company is in its organic segment.

“We are seeing increased volumes on organics year over year and the demand is there in the marketplace for more,” Flores said. “It’s been growing every year and I think we are going to see some strong volume over the next couple of months, even greater than what we’ve seen over the last few years, and it will continue to drive growth in the category.”

Naturipe Farms offers conventional and organic blueberries year-round in a variety of package sizes, including ready-to-eat blueberry snack packs.

“We’re in the process of renewing our varieties and adding in newer varieties in different areas,” Flores said. “In the industry, you always have to update varieties as newer ones come out. Changeover in blueberries takes time, but something we are definitely working toward, and you’ll see a mix coming in the next few years.”