SAVANNAH, Ga. — The U.S. blackberry industry is trying to form a promotion and research organization.

In a Jan. 7 meeting, blackberry growers and importers discussed a proposal to develop the Blackberry Research and Promotion Program whose stated mission is to “increase awareness and consumption of blackberries.”

Blackberry industry starting marketing association

Doug Ohlemeier

John Shelford (left), president of Naples, Fla.-based Shelford Associates and organizational governance counselor for Kansas City, Mo.-based FreshXperts, discusses the benefits of forming a national blackberry research and promotion program with Ervin Lineberger, past president of the North American Raspberry & Blackberry Association and owner of Killdeer Farm, Kings Mountain, N.C. Blackberry industry members discussed starting an organization to help increase blackberry consumption during the North American Raspberry & Blackberry Conference Jan. 7 in Savannah, Ga.


Growers and importers discussed the proposal at the North American Raspberry & Blackberry Conference, meeting in conjunction with the 2011 Southeast Regional Fruit and Vegetable Conference.

An industry working group began discussing the issue in 2010 and a consultant for the North American Raspberry & Blackberry Association wrote a draft document to establishing the group, which would promote fresh market consumption throughout North America.

The organization would be financed by a penny-per-pound fee assessed on first handlers of all U.S. and Canada-produced and imported blackberries. The assessment is expected to generate $1.25 million-$1.5 million, said Debby Wechsler, the Pittsboro, N.C.-based association’s executive secretary.

At least 51% of the industry’s producers and importers who account for 65% of blackberry production must approve the proposed referendum, she said.

Blackberry industry starting marketing association


Ervin Lineberger, working group chairman and owner of Killdeer Farm, Kings Mountain, N.C., said the industry hasn’t totaled surveys working group members passed out at the meeting to gauge industry support for a vote on the proposal until after association members address other groups such as grower-shippers and state blackberry and raspberry groups.

“Everything is on the table,” said Lineberger, past president of the association. “Nothing has been decided. We are moving ahead but it might be a little slower than we had hoped.”

John Shelford, president of Naples, Fla.-based Shelford Associates and organizational governance counselor for Kansas City, Mo.-based FreshXperts, said the industry needs some promotional muscle. Shelford is former president and chief executive officer of Naturipe Farms LLC, Naples.

“The blackberry industry has grown with essentially no investment by the industry or major berry marketers,” he said. “You won’t move more volume in peak periods without the retailers behind you. You have to have retail support through promotions, not low prices.”

Adair Peterson, a Homerville, Ga., grower, noted how the blueberry industry grew demand through a similar organization beyond its ability to produce berries.

“Since I’ve been involved in blackberries, I was shocked to see that there has been no marketer-driven or industry-driven research or promotions,” she said. “I’m sure we have a health message we can develop and we need to do that. You see this production curve going straight up but as an industry, we have done nothing to increase demand.”

If the industry approves holding the referendum, U.S. growers that produce at least 30,000 pounds a year and importers would vote by mail. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Marketing Service would oversee the organization’s formation and operation. If the industry moves ahead on the proposal, it would take six months after publication in the Federal Register before the program would begin operation, Lineberger said.

The proposed board would consist of seven U.S. growers, three importers, two international producers and an at-large member.