LOOKING AT THE NUMBERS
Just how popular are berries? Consider the growth of the blueberry.
Victoria De Bruin, marketing manager of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, says U.S. per capita consumption of blueberries grew 600 percent between 1994 and 2014, the best of any fruit or vegetable.
She notes that the Council’s Consumer Usage & Attitude Study conducted in the latter half of 2017 indicates that 75 percent of Americans were on the path to buying blueberries — a 10 percent increase from a study conducted four years earlier.
“The USHBC has shifted from studying usage and attitudes from every four years to every two, so we’re eager to see the latest in 2019,” says De Bruin.
A steady, year-round flow of fresh blueberries entering supermarkets is helping those sales, she notes. The North American season starts in April and continues through September, with product from South America taking its place on shelves from October through March.
“Right now, while enjoying quality fresh product from Chile, Peru and other countries, our Blueberry Council members in the southern states are gearing up for their 2019 harvest,” says De Bruin. “The 2018 crop was on par with the prior year, with nearly 700,000 pounds of fresh and processed highbush blueberries in North America.”
According to De Bruin, the initial data from Nielsen Perishables Group for 2018 is showing blueberries also had a great year.
“Total fruit sales were up by only 0.8 percent compared to 2017, but the blueberry industry generated figures far above that across volume, dollars and per capita — dollars — sold,” she says. “The population numbers used to calculate per capita come from the U.S. Census Bureau and take into account U.S. residents.”
Those numbers indicate volume is up 5.2 percent, while dollars have increased 9.3 percent, and per capita dollars are up 8.6 percent.
Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms, headquartered in Watsonville, CA, says the company offers four types of berries: strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.
“Research shows the entire category is growing, but within the berry category, blueberries continue to see the greatest increase in sales and volume behind strawberries,” says Jewell. “Strawberries are the leader, with the highest consumption rate and longest maturity on a nationwide basis with year-round availability. However, blueberry consumption has really grown due to the health attributes associated with them. Blackberries and raspberries are also gaining every year in popularity and consumption as they shift from being a ‘special occasion’ item to an everyday fruit.”
Christine Christian, senior vice president of the California Strawberry Commission, based in Watsonville, CA, says strawberries lead the berry category with 63 percent of volume sales and 45 percent of dollar sales. And it seems people can’t get enough of them.
“There is a shift to increased purchases of larger package sizes, especially the 2-pound [32 ounces] clamshell, especially during peak California strawberry season from April through September,” says Christian.
Michelle Deleissegues, marketing director for Red Blossom, headquartered in Los Olivos, CA, says this is an exciting time for berries because they are almost always in demand and consumers’ desire for berries does not diminish, but only grows.
“Red Blossom has steadily increased production in southern regions to meet increasing demand in winter and early spring from our customers,” says Deleissegues.
PROMOTIONS SHOULD INCLUDE CLEAR FOCUS ON HEALTH BENEFITS
A key selling point for berries is their reputation as a super food, packed with delicious flavor. But retailers still need to send that message in smart and effective ways.
“Consumers are inundated with information today and especially in the health industry,” says Michelle Deleissegues, marketing director for Red Blossom, headquartered in Los Olivos, CA. “Supermarkets can play a key role in clarifying and distilling the information for consumers, helping them make informed decisions without feeling overwhelmed. If you’re a reliable source of information that makes day-to-day living easier, consumers will come back to you again and again.”
Christine Christian, senior vice president of the California Strawberry Commission, based in Watsonville, CA, says strawberries have every characteristic that shoppers want in a healthy food.
“Consumers have high interest in foods that are low in sugar, high in nutrients and provide health and wellness benefits,” she says. “A serving of just eight strawberries is 50 calories with seven grams of sugar, more Vitamin C than an orange, plus fiber and other nutrients. Research shows regular strawberry consumption supports heart, brain and metabolic health.”
According to Victoria De Bruin, marketing manager of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, consumers have cited the flavor and health of blueberries as the top purchase drivers.
“Blueberries offer important health benefits — and with their delicious flavor and versatility — they should be a considered a staple on consumers’ shopping lists,” she says.
She adds blueberries are certified heart healthy through the American Heart Association Heart-Check Food Certification Program.
“The Blueberry Council and its grower members can use the official heart-check mark on blueberry packaging and throughout online, print and other promotional materials and activities,” she says.
De Bruin says that over the past 15 years, the USHBC has supported studies in the areas of cognitive function, insulin response, cancer and cardiovascular health.
She notes a recent study by Laval University in Quebec City showed proanthocyanidins, a type of plant compound found in blueberries, had a beneficial effect against the type of bacteria that is associated with an aggressive form of periodontal disease. The study also showed proanthocyanidins block the molecular pathway involved in inflammation — a factor largely involved in gum disease.
“While more evidence is needed, the results of this study add to the body of research on blueberry’s potential antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties,” says De Bruin.
But Frances Dillard, senior director, brand and product marketing, for Driscoll’s, based in Watsonville, CA, notes even though shoppers know they’re doing their bodies good when they put berries in their shopping cart, berries’ popularity is driven by taste.
“Consumers are aware of the health benefits of eating fresh fruit and vegetables, that is a given,” she says. “However, the No. 1 driver of purchase and consumption is flavor.”