(UPDATED COVERAGE, Jan. 9) Alpine Fresh Inc.’s expansion into domestic blueberries should help strengthen Florida’s blueberry deal, company officials say.

Alpine Fresh expands into domestic blueberriesThe Miami-based importer celebrating its 25th anniversary in January has struck a partnership with Auburndale, Fla.-based Five Star Family Growers that involves construction of a new packinghouse and shipments of Florida blueberries starting this spring.

Beginning in March, the joint venture between Alpine Fresh and Five Star expects to pack more than 1 million pounds of blueberries, said Stacy Spivey, Alpine Fresh’s North American berry program director.

A new operation, Five Star harvested its first fruit last season and Spivey said the two companies share many goals and should benefit from the 20,000-square-foot packing facility that began construction in mid-December.

Alpine Fresh expands into domestic blueberries“That facility will give us the ability to do a lot of things creatively to help extend and strengthen the Florida blueberry season,” Spivey said. “We could see some February fruit. We’re toying with some varieties that aren’t grown in the U.S. that will benefit our customers.

“We’ve been a key importer of fresh blueberries for many years. Now that we’re building this domestic program, we will be able to offer a 12-month berry deal to our customers.”

Spivey said Alpine Fresh also plans to expand into other U.S. production regions.

Importing Mexican, Central American and South American asparagus, blueberries, blackberries and french beans and snap beans, the grower, packer and shipper handles more than 8 million cartons of produce a year, according to company officials.