I had the chance to chat on April 7 with Joe Barsi, director of business development at California Giant Inc., Watsonville.

6:35 p.m. Tom Karst:  Anyway, thanks for taking time for a chat today Joe.

Joe Barsi:  I'm here. Just got back from Washington state

6:36 p.m. Tom:  From following you on Twitter (@berrygiant), as much as I follow any one of the 2,000 people I follow, you do travel. What is keeping you busy right now?

6:37 p.m. Joe: Well, people ask me if I travel and I say not that much, but when I look back I am on the road a lot. I'm working on wrapping up our season out of Chile and reviews with our Chilean Partners.
6:38 p.m. I’m also working on gearing up for the California, Oregon and Pacific Northwest blueberry seasons.

6:40 p.m. Tom:  How would you describe to your friends what you do? Is Twitter on your job description, because if not you do a nice job of representing California Giant and so it should be.

6:41 p.m. Joe:  I work on building our global supply of non-strawberries if that makes sense and I spend most of my time developing and managing our blueberry business.
6:42 p.m.  I was an early adopter of twitter, but not a heavy user. Some friends from b-school told me I should be more active since I have a pretty interesting job and my job takes me to some incredible places.
For example, I just got back from a trip to the Skagit Valley in Washington. I get to meet some amazing farming families and see some great country and countries.

6:43 p.m. Tom: That's a big job. It is always blueberry season somewhere, correct?

6:45 p.m. Joe:  Yes, the blueberry deal is non-stop and our strawberries are year-round as well.

6:44 p.m. Tom: Blueberries have been such a success story, but supply is growing pretty fast. Can the market place keep up the increase in acreage? Are growers still happy to be in blueberries?

6:46 p.m. Joe: Yes, I believe that consumption will keep up with supply. The blueberry market is not as mature as the strawberry market, especially on pack sizes.
6:47 p.m. As blueberry supply increases, pack sizes are increasing as well and it hasn't fully matured, which creates headaches for our packaging manager.
6:48 p.m. As far as growers are concerned, there has been a leveling off of new plantings across the U.S. However, growers are replanting with new varieties.

Tom: Yes, I'm sure that is  a lot of  inventory to have in place and be ready on a moment's notice. How would you characterize what the North American blueberry deal may be like, or at least for your company what kind of season to expect.
6:49 p.m. Sorry, that's kind of a tough question for chat mode, but do you have a quick thought on your expectations?

6:50  p.m. Joe: Well, generally speaking North America saw a transition from frozen to the fresh market last year due to a lower processed price. I think you will see more product being diverted to the fresh market again this season.   However, frozen inventories are below last year at this time so that may keep things snug.

6:51 p.m. Tom:  So retailers may have good supply to promote with domestic berries?
 
Joe: As for Cal Giant, we will have a significant increase in California and Oregon volumes this season. We will be operating a packing house in Oregon this season to cover the Pacific Northwest season. So, I am optimistic about this year's season.
6:53 p.m.   I just attended the California Blueberry Commission meeting a couple of weeks ago and large grower/marketers were talking about a 30-40 million pound California crop. I don't think it will hit 40 million, but I think we will hit 30 million pounds in California this season. All fresh packed too. It is more fresh volume than Oregon does in a season annually.

Tom: As you have the chance to meet growers face to face, how do they feel about the current marketing trend of "know your farmer" - does Cal Giant try to feature individual growers in promotions? Just curious if your guys would like the pub or if they are camera shy.

6:55 p.m. Joe: We do,  and in fact one of our retail customers featured one of our growers in their stores, so California Giant is very open to that. We plan on doing some social media marketing things around our growers as well.

6:56 p.m. Tom: That's cool. Now you will have to show your growers the way around Twitter!

6:59 p.m. Joe: Yes, I may have to do that. I'm trying to get @agleader to get his neighbor and my brother-in-law tweeting, but we still can't convince him.
7:00 p.m. Twitter and Facebook are tools to help company's build relationships with consumers. it is not a silver bullet, but should be an integral part of a company's marketing plan.

7:01 p.m. Tom: You'll find a way, no doubt. I appreciate your time, Joe. Just a couple of more questions... One, I noticed a couple of chains had blackberries on ad this week. Is that a berry that has growth potential going forward?

7:03 p.m. Joe: Yes, I think blackberries have huge upside. As you have noticed, most retailers are selling bigger packs (12 oz.) and they are selling quite well. Blackberries have high nutritional benefits and I think you will continue to see the category grow.

Joe:  Only about 25% of consumers purchase them on a regular basis, so (there is) definitely upside.

7:05 p.m. Tom:  Very good. One last question. As you are well traveled, what is one "berry" destination that you would enjoy going back to just as a tourist?

7:08 p.m. Joe: Is this a trick question? If I say Argentina, then my Chilean suppliers will give me a hard time and vice versa. I would have to say Argentina. It is a big country with a lot of things to do and see and they have great meat and wine. Plus, they have great hunting, which I hope to do there one day. Instead of hunting berries.

7:09 p.m. Thanks for your time Tom and sorry about KSU in the tourney. I told you not to bet with your heart, but you probably did better than I did.

7:12 p.m. Tom:  Ha. Joe, thanks for making time and I appreciate your thought about the Cats. I have no doubt they will claw their way back. Thanks again and have a great season (and try to mend those fences with your Chilean friends)

  7:13 p.m. Joe:  It was my pleasure.