By Clint Thompson
Produce industry experts believe consumers are, and will continue to be more health conscious, which is good news for blueberry producers.
“It’s very apparent to me that consumers are getting the message because when you look at things like the blueberry category, the strawberry category, the citrus category, we’re seeing great movement in those types of items,” said Melissa Byland, senior buyer in produce at Walmart. “I think consumers are definitely connecting fresh produce and specific items within fresh produce in the aspect that they contribute to better health. We’re definitely seeing the impacts of that in our business.”
According to UGA Extension’s blueberry site, blueberries are a good source of vitamin C, iron and fiber. They’re cholesterol-free, sodium-free and possess an important source of potassium.
Research concludes that the antioxidants in blueberries help protect the body against chronic diseases associated with aging.
“We talked to one scientist who said there are seven things you should be eating to boost your immune system to protect you from any virus. Blueberries were on the list. We need to take advantage of that in this current situation to educate consumers,” said Cathy Burns, CEO of the Produce Marketing Association. “I don’t think it’s going away anytime soon. People are going to continue to be concerned about health. Obviously, what Melissa is seeing in her sales is very consistent with what we’re hearing with retailers across the board. It’s our time to shine and really focus on eating fresh fruits and vegetables, and blueberries fits squarely in that.”
According to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Georgia and Florida, along with eight other states, help produce more than 98% of the country’s blueberry crop.
Blueberry producers should really profit in the upcoming months. Byland said the latter part of spring and into summer, berries are under the spotlight at Wal-Mart. And it’s not changing.
“For us, we look at May, June and July as the Super Bowl of berries. We’re really planning to execute business the same way we have in the past. I know that quality and availability is at its best during this time. We’re able to offer customers larger pack sizes,” Byland said. “We’re really gearing down and looking toward running our summer business the same way we always have. It’s a great opportunity also for us to feature locally grown products, which we try to do as often as we possibly can. We know that it definitely resonates with customers. It gives them a great feeling about being able to support their local farmers.”