The Folsom, Calif.-based North American Blueberry Council and U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council have been tracking more fruit and nut inclusions in foods sold at grocery retail — and particularly in the fresh perimeter departments, said Alicia Adler, the groups’ vice president of global business development.
“The perimeter has a reputation for being the healthiest part of the supermarket,” Adler said. “It’s where people go for their produce, their kefir, their fresh seafood, artisan breads, healthy deli salads—the whole ‘good-for-you grocery list.’ That’s why phrases like ‘Shop the perimeter’ have become almost mantras with health-minded consumers.”
Given that, fruit and nut inclusions make a natural fit all around the perimeter, she said. Among the many inclusion ideas for blueberries include a blueberry-walnut sprinkle to put on a salad and a berry-almond mix-in for yogurt and. In the instore bakery alone, fruits and nuts have earned the status of “the original healthy inclusions,” Adler said.
“Health and wellness are obvious factors, but the sheer pleasure principle of fruit and nut inclusions is another,” Adler said. “If retailers can give their customers a dose of both these factors, they’re hitting the sweet spot.”
Blueberries’ use as inclusions has always been high. Some of that comes from being widely available, consistent in quality, offered in application-friendly forms like IQF, freeze-dried, infused and more, she added.
In produce departments, blueberries are commonly found, in dried form, in salad mixes. And as concentrates, purees and infused blueberries, they’re showing up in fresh dressings and smoothies in produce department refrigerator cases. Blueberries can also usually be found in the salad-build mixes in deli department salad bars.
Fruit snacks and rollups in the produce department are also increasingly becoming a home for blueberries, Weber said. So much so, research chefs at USHBC formulated a blueberry-ginger fruit roll from partially thawed frozen blueberries, fresh ginger and black pepper, Weber said.
In deli, cheesemakers are innovating by topping soft cheeses with blueberry purees or jams, and there are blueberry-flavored almond and oatmilks that double up on the plant power with blueberries and healthy plant proteins.
In meat and seafood, blueberries shine in marinades, sauces and rubs that shoppers can grab at the counter to complete the protein portion of their meals, Weber said. Frozen, pureed and infused blueberries also work well with meats and seafood. The USHBC, for instance, has developed compound butters using blueberry powders and freeze-dried blueberries that blend well into butters that can be used as a finishing touch on a sautéed seafood dish or sauteed vegetables, among other applications.
In the instore bakery, blueberries are perfect for quick breads, yeast breads, cakes, breakfast pastries and filled pastries, sweet or savory.
“They’re familiar, flavorful, comforting and attractive to consumers, and they’re easy to work with for bakery operators,” Weber said. “One option we worked on at the USHBC is a blueberry-allspice roll that tweaks the classic cinnamon version. Instead of the usual cinnamon-sugar filling, we combined dried and canned blueberries to create a compote-like filling that has a structure and texture perfect for commercial-bakery use.”
Even the deli section can put blueberries to use in salads, grain blends and sides. And with delis getting more “culinary” by the day—rivaling foodservice, even — deli teams have to up their games with inspired offerings, Weber said.
With that in mind, USHBC chefs developed a blue tamale that would be an eye-catcher in any deli case. The tamales get their color not from blue corn but from a blueberry masa made with concentrated and strained canned blueberries, which gives them an intense natural color and bits of actual juicy berries in the dough.
Formulations for all blueberry applications are available at www.blueberrytech.org.