QUEBEC CITY — Quebec’s most eagerly awaited crop officially arrived on June 8 this year.
Cold and rain at the end of May delayed the crop for up to eight days depending on the region, said Caroline Thibault, director of the Quebec Strawberry and Raspberry Growers Association, but sunshine in early June made temperatures, and spirits, rise.
By June 16, Thibault planned to send out newsletters to more than 300 foodservice operators across the province with the news and tips on using fresh berries. Though the first strawberries were small, she said the quality was excellent.
The Quebec government has designated strawberries as its “star” commodity in June.
Thibault said more and more producers and supermarkets are using the brand name “Les Fraiches du Quebec,” introduced in 2009, to promote Quebec-grown strawberries and raspberries.
More than 7 million trays and clamshells displayed the brand last summer, she said, compared to 6 million in 2009. This summer, she expects to see the berry-shaped logo on more than 8 million containers.
The association is also cross-promoting local berries with Quebec food manufacturers, namely Yoplait yogurt, fresh cream, and chocolate fondue made by Lassonde Specialties Inc.’s Canton brand.
“These collaborations promote enthusiasm among distributors and give tremendous visibility to our new brand,” Thibault said.
Greenhouse and berry grower Jacques Demers of St. Nicolas, near Quebec City, said his 40-acre strawberry crop was seven to 10 days behind this year. New day-neutral varieties should allow him to pick until October, and he expects to have enough volume to supply the chain stores in August and September.
Demers’ 7 acres of raspberries grow under high plastic tunnels and are packaged in clamshells to showcase their quality.
“Consumers are now looking for this kind of fruit and quality, and we’re trying to produce as fast as we can because we’ll soon be competing with open field raspberries,” he said.
He expects to start picking raspberries in mid-July until mid-October. The fruit is so fragile, he said pickers have to be trained to be efficient and careful.
Harvesting now represents 60% of the cost of raspberry production, Demers said. In the fall, he competes with California raspberries, another challenge.
“The market is interesting,” he said.