With the recession-related slump in organic sales receding, several importers of Chilean blueberries report plans to significantly boost organic imports, if not this year then not too far down the road.
Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC expects its volumes of imported Chilean blueberries to increase by up to 30% this season, about in line with industrywide projections, said Jim Roberts, the company’s vice president of sales.
Significant as that is, it’s nothing compared to the company’s expected organic Chilean blueberry growth in 2010-2011.
Roberts said the increase over last season could be as high as 60%.
“We’re looking at more significant growth in our organic category,” he said.
The recession took its toll on the organic blueberry business, as it did for so many other organic produce categories, Roberts said.
But beginning in the third quarter of 2009, sales started to come back. And they’ve kept coming back.
“Sales have been very strong this year, and a lot of retailers are seeing double-digit growth,” he said.
The key, Roberts said, has been increasing volumes enough to get the price difference between organic and conventional in the 20-30% range.
Consumers are willing to pay more for organics, but it’s only the hardcore organic consumers — a small percentage of the total organic consumer crowd — that will pay much more than a 30% premium, Roberts said.
Organic volumes out of Chile should be so big this season, Naturipe expects to pack significant quantities in pints, Roberts said.
Naturipe’s first organic shipments, in 4.4.-ounce containers, were expected at the end of the week of Oct. 18, with volumes expected to peak about the first of the year, Roberts said.
Washington, D.C.-based Sun Belle Inc. expects to have about 20,000 cases of Chilean blueberries certified organic in 2010-11, said Janice Honigberg, the company’s president.
That number will grow considerably in the next two or three years, she said. The company’s growers currently have 30 hectares of blueberries in transition from conventional to organic.
“We’ll have at least 80,000 cases this year that are free of residue,” Honigberg said. “Our organic program is still very young.”
Watsonville, Calif.-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates also reports continued strong growth in its organic Chilean blueberry program, said John Johnston, the company’s director of blueberry product management.
“Driscoll’s continues to have a strong organic program, and our numbers will increase this season, driven by increased consumer demand,” he said.
Tampa, Fla.-based Sun Valley International doesn’t plan to import any organic blueberries from Chile this season, but the company is keeping a close eye on future opportunities because of the status of one of its grower partners in the country, said Bob Ritchart, vice president of sales.
The grower didn’t set out to grow organic berries, but because of the growing region he’s in, he’s able to grow fruit with a minimal amount of pesticides, Ritchart said.
“Based just on where he is, he’s almost organic-certified,” he said.
As a result, the chances of the company’s shipping organic blueberries out of Chile sometime in the future are increasing, Ritchart said.
California Giant Inc., Watsonville, Calif., will not be importing any organic blueberries from Chile this season, said Joe Barsi, the company’s director of business development.