Requests for berries that are locally grown and sustainably grown are on the rise, and grower-shippers are going all out to comply with those requests.
HBF International LLC, Sheridan, Ore., works with several retailers in Oregon who promote Northwest-grown products, said Doug Perkins, managing director.
“That’s been a big, big deal for us for quite a while,” he said.
“(Product) is being touted as locally grown more in the last couple of years.”
The quest for locally grown produce is good for the industry as a whole, no matter where “local” may be, he said, since locally grown fruits and vegetables tend to set a high bar for quality standards.
Oregon berries have an advantage over berries from many other areas, said Brian Malensky, vice president of domestic sales for Oregon Berry Packing Co., Hillsboro.
“(Oregon) really is recognized as the premium blueberry growing region of the world,” he said, so the company is shifting to the Oregon-grown label.
“We’re promoting the state,” Malensky said.
Malensky hopes consumers worldwide will recognize the premium quality of Oregon berries.
He attributed much of that quality to Oregon’s unique growing conditions.
“We can let the berry hang on the bush for 10-15 days, which allows it to sweeten up, yet it still maintains its firmness because of our cool nights,” he said.
Curry & Co. LLC, Brooks, Ore., is developing programs with a couple of retailers that focus on the company’s blackberry program, said Mike Klackle, vice president of berry sales.
“There’s a lot of value to locally grown,” he said, especially in the Northwest.
The demand for local produce goes beyond consumers’ desire for good flavor, said Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing for Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples, Fla.
“Consumers in local areas first and foremost want to make sure we’re taking care of the growers around their area,” he said.
Consumers want to connect with growers, he said. They want to hear the growers’ stories.
“We produce blueberries in many areas, so we’re able to make the local-grown story/good-steward-of-the-land story one that is pretty closely aligned with where our markets are,” Verloop said.
Similarly, Colorful Harvest LLC is based in Salinas, Calif., but as a year-round shipper, the company sources berries from several areas where it promotes local product, said Doug Ranno, chief operating officer and managing partner.
“When we harvest Florida strawberries, we promote them as Florida grown or locally grown when sold in Florida retailers,” he said.
“When we grow California strawberries, we promote them as locally grown to California retailers.
It does not mean that we can’t sell them to customers in other regions.”
Sustainably grown product is also top of mind for berry growers.
“Sustainably grown at all levels is a big discussion,” said Brian Ostlund, executive director of the Salem-based Oregon Blueberry Commission.
He said food safety is equally important, especially with the diverse size of the farms in the state.
Oxnard, Calif.-based Red Blossom Farms has created a promotional piece retailers hand out that outlines the company’s sustainability program, said Michelle Deleissegues, marketing director.
“Red Blossom carefully selects strawberry varieties bred to adapt to regional ground and weather conditions, making them more resistant to pests and extreme water usage,” the company says.
The firm uses electric forklifts to reduce exhaust and petroleum use and has combined a number of integrated pest management strategies and practices to reduce the use of pesticides.
Red Blossom also uses underground drip systems for reduced volume irrigation.
And at Colorful Harvest, “Sustainable growing practices mean being a good steward of the land,” Ranno said.
“We employ a variety of techniques such as crop rotation, and we maintain careful records to be assured that best practices are followed,” he said.