The first half of 2023 was a great one for berry volumes and quality, said Jim Roberts, president of sales for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms.
“We’re expecting it to end on a high note as well,” Roberts said. “California production was delayed due to the crazy weather they experienced all spring, so many of our strawberries are ripening just in time for summer.”
Naturipe’s blueberry crops in New Jersey, Michigan and the Pacific Northwest, meanwhile, were shaping up very well as summer got underway, he said. The company is also expecting higher volumes of raspberries and blackberries.
“2023 has shaped up to be the year of the berry,” he said.
One of the reasons for that optimism is Naturipe’s excitement about its growers’ investments in new varieties of blueberries, Roberts said.
Private breeding programs have yielded better tasting, firmer and more flavorful blueberries, he said.
“We can’t wait for consumers to try them this summer. We’re expecting to have a great supply of proprietary blueberry varieties available from our various domestic growing regions throughout the summer.”
Naturipe’s proprietary blackberry variety out of Georgia, Southern Grace, meanwhile, is an “excellent piece of fruit that has been delighting folks for years,” Roberts said.
The domestic 2023 crop is looking good, with significant promotional volume, agreed Joe Vargas, director of business intelligence for the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council.
“Color, size, and flavor are great, with the rest of the year also looking good.”
Demand has been stronger through the first half of the year, relative to last year, with both sales and volumes up, Vargas said. The council’s proprietary SPINS database revealed that in June, for example, all blueberries were up 12% in volume and 7% in dollar value.
That builds on a strong first quarter performance of increases in volume and dollars of 6.3% and 8.9% respectively.
SPINS data also shows that blueberries are the second-biggest revenue driver in the produce aisle, with 10 times the dollar sales growth of their closest competitor.
Growth in fresh organic blueberries has been especially impressive, Vargas said, with June sales of blueberries up 26% in volume and 58% in dollars.
Bigger is better
One of the lynchpins of Naturipe’s program is its line of extra-large berry varieties, said Melissa Ritter, the company’s marketing manager.
Mighty Blues (blueberries) and the brand new Mighty Reds (raspberries) are premium varieties that are “packed with more flavor than anything we’ve grown before,” Ritter said.
On the marketing side, Naturipe is in the midst of a consumer-focused campaign, “All Berry Summer.” Consumers can share pictures of themselves enjoying Naturipe berries and tag the company on social media with the hashtag #AllBerrySummer. Each submission is a raffle entry to win a month of free berries and exclusive Naturipe merchandise.
When it comes to merchandising fresh berries at retail, one key, Ritter said, is to tailor marketing efforts to the season and based on shopper and food trends.
“For example, retailers can promote the refreshing flavors and bright colors of berries during summer months.”
Retailers should also boost efforts to promote the health benefits of berries, she added. Many consumers are more focused on their health in the summer months, so highlighting how berries are part of a well-rounded diet is a great way to boost their sales.
Finding the right windows
Blueberries are now a year-round staple fruit for berry-loving households, Vargas said.
Given that, the key to leveraging their appeal is looking for the ideal windows of time where retailers can feature blueberries to drive produce aisle dollars and sales across other user adjacent categories such as dairy, cereals, baking ingredients and other healthy produce items.
One of the biggest of those windows for the council is July, National Blueberry Month.
The group July supported its grocery partners this year with funding for merchandising, advertising and much more, Vargas said.
“Thirty retailers operating nearly 10,000 stores agreed to collaborate with us to aggressively promote blueberries all month long.”
Half of those retailers implemented USHBC-funded sales contests to assist their stores in maximizing sales during the month. And about half are using eye-catching point-of-sale materials supplied by the council, while others are conducting in-store sampling or hosting events led by their retail dietitians.
The USHBC also facilitated digital advertising and in-store audio ads at several retailers, in addition to working with retailers’ marketing teams to support a wide variety of social media activations.
Promotions during the month included a cross-promotion with Chobani Greek yogurt at Meijer stores and a partnership with the California Milk Advisory Board at Smart & Final, Sprouts and Nugget Markets stores.
This article is an excerpt from the August 2023 issue of Supermarket Perimeter. You can read the entire Berries feature and more in the digital edition here.