Blueberries: promotions needed?The USDA has approved an assessment increase for the Blueberry Promotion, Research and Information Order.

It certainly seems that blueberries, among all commodities, don’t need much help in the promotion department.

But perhaps that is a misperception, an under-appreciation of what the blueberry industry has already accomplished.

There is an interesting discussion in the final rule about why promotion of blueberries is needed more than ever. From the rule:

The USHBC met on October 5, 2012, and unanimously recommended increasing its assessment rate from $12 to $18 per ton ($0.006 to $0.009 per pound). This equates to an increase of $6 per ton, or $0.003 per pound. Additional funds would enable the USHBC to expand its health research activities and promotional efforts. Since the program's inception, the USHBC has funded several health and nutrition research projects, many of them laboratory studies.

USHBC research has shown possibilities relating to various health issues, including cardiovascular health and cancer. However, most of these preliminary findings have been done under laboratory conditions. Additional funds will allow the USHBC to incorporate specific areas of research into expanded clinical (human) trials. Clinical trials are important for the industry to be able to make health claims according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requirements for the advertising of food.

The USHBC uses its health information in its promotion messaging to help build demand for blueberries. Increasing demand will help move the growing supply of blueberries. Worldwide highbush blueberry production has grown from 393 million pounds in 2005 to 753 million pounds in 2010. Production is expected to increase to 1 billion pounds in 2013 and to nearly 1.4 billion pounds by 2015 World highbush blueberry acreage grew from approximately 50,000 acres in 1995 to over 190,000 acres in 2010. North American highbush blueberry acreage increased by over 55 percent from 71,075 acres in 2005 to 110,290 acres in 2010. With highbush blueberry production expected to increase more than 38 percent by 2015, the USHBC hopes to increase consumption among existing blueberry consumers and to attract new blueberry users. Per capita consumption of blueberries increased from 15.7 ounces in 2000 to 31.4 ounces in 2009. According to the North American Blueberry Council, U.S. per capita consumption is now estimated at 36.2 ounces. In order to maintain a balance between supply and demand, a 38 percent increase in per capita consumption would equate to a level of 50 ounces per person by 2015.



Put in that context – per capita consumption must increase from 36 ounces in 2013 to 50 ounces by 2015 – I can see why the industry does not want to leave its fate in the hands of fickle food editors and foodie bloggers.

But uniting all growers is difficult in any industry, and this proposal was not universally acclaimed. Though 137 comments were submitted to USDA in support of the assessment increase, 29 dissented.

I think the majority got it right in this instance. And given the challenge of creating more demand for what become a year-round favorite fruit, perhaps growers may regret not increasing the assessment even more.