Apples, pears and cherries have always been the staple products of Selah, Wash.-based Rainier Fruit Co. Now, Rainier has added blueberries to its product mix.
The company, which started producing blueberries seven years ago, is increasing production on what marketing director Suzanne Wolter called a dramatic scale.
Rainier is punctuating that production by specializing in organic berries.
It’s a matter of efficiency, Wolter said.
“Really, they come on right about the same time as our cherry season, so they’re a nice complement to the cherries, in addition to the apples and pears,” she said. “We also come into season right before some of the other major growing areas. We begin early to mid-June and run through the end of July or early August.”
Rainier expects to pack up to 1.5 million pounds of berries this year, Wolter said.
Half of that will be organic, and the percentage will grow in the near future, Wolter said.
“Over the next few years, we’ll take that to 80% or more,” she said.
The thinking behind the company’s commitment to organic product is simple, Wolter said.
“Compared to other parts of the country, it’s easier for us to produce an organic blueberry,” she said. “I think that’s where we’ll find our niche if we have to compete with other regions of the country.”
For the near term, most of the company’s berries will go through the West, Wolter said.
“Once New Jersey and Michigan hit their peak, it will be difficult to go into that part of the country,” she said.
Organics, however, will give Rainier an edge over rivals in other parts of the country, Wolter noted.
“Organically, I think they have a little bit harder time,” she said. “They have more moisture. We have a really dry climate and don’t have the same type of pest issues. And because we can control the amount of water that’s going to the plants, you get really big blueberries up here.”
Rainier has new acreage coming on, which will bump blueberry production considerably, Wolter said.
“Our new acreage we have coming on will really hit us next year and for three or four years following,” she said.
The increased production will demand expanded production capacity, and the company will be building onto its production lines, Wolter said.
“I think we’re going to be adding to our blueberry line, increasing the capacity,” she said. “I’m not sure it’s going to be this or next year, but it will happen.”
Rainier produces the duke variety of blueberry primarily, Wolter said.
“It’s a really large fruit,” she said. “It stores well and eats well. And we’re looking at some of the other varieties. Most are dukes. The other ones are drapers and aurora. We’re looking at the newer varieties, size, how they store, how they ship.”
Rainier’s entire production goes to the fresh market, Wolter said.