North American blueberry production continues upward trend, demand keeps pace

Blueberry production in North America has been growing steadily over the last several years, with both increased acreage and better yields driving those production gains. While the kind of growth the continent has seen has been significant, a good portion of that growth stems from trying to provide a steady supply of blueberries for retailers. That suggests that increased production is being driven by strong consumer demand.

Preliminary estimates put this year's highbush blueberry crop in North America at 703.4 million pounds. That's up from the previous year's production of 666.5 million pounds, and the production gains have been spread out over several of the region's blueberry-growing areas. British Columbia's production, which will likely show the biggest gains, is expected to jump from 120 million pounds in 2013 to 152 million pounds this year. Likewise, in the United States, Georgia and Washington are expected to have more berries, with increases this year of 28 million pounds and 10 million pounds, respectively. Those gains have come as a result of increased acreage and better yields.

“Acreage continues to increase, though at a slower rate than in previous years, with most of the growth in the west, primarily British Columbia and Washington, and in the south, in Georgia,” said Mark Villata, executive director of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council. “New varieties planted on existing acreage over the past few years are also in some cases resulting in higher yields in some states.” With that kind of growth, one could wonder if there will be a point at which all of the blueberries grown will find receptive markets. But in the case of North America, growth has come as a result of strong demand, so the market has not been flooded with too much product.

“For us, we are working with our grower partners in various regions to provide that smooth transition into spring and summer after the South American season drops off,” explained Cindy Jewell, vice president of marketing for California Giant Berry Farms. “We want to ensure our retail partners and the consumer year-round availability.” That the United States imports a great deal of blueberries to satisfy consumer demand is a testament to the amount of berries that customers want. In fact, consumption has kept up as consumers become more aware of the health benefits of berries.

“United States per capita consumption of blueberries is estimated at 43.3 ounces this year,” said Villata. “That's up 38 ounces from last year and considerably above the total of 27.8 ounces just five years ago. So demand has kept up with supplies, and we have market promotions activities in place to try to continue this trend.” Those promotions have been instrumental in driving demand, and Villata believes they will continue to be important as production continues to increase.

“Even with our per capita consumption figures we have room to grow relative to other fruits,” said Villata. “But at some point in the future you have to wonder how much production can be utilized, that is why we are aggressively promoting and also investing in health related blueberry research.” For now, the growth exhibited has been continually met with matching demand.

“We see continued increase in demand each year” said Jewell. “Blueberry demand is still on the rise with consumers due to their flavor, versatility, and nutritional value.”

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