Washington is the largest blueberry growing state in the US, but not all areas in the state are equally suitable to grow high-quality fruit “Good, consistent quality has to start with the right varieties growing in the right fields. As a result, the Zirkle Family – 100% family owner of Rainier Fruit's organic blueberry volume – is hyper-focused on analyzing micro-climates to determine specific areas throughout Washington State most optimal for each variety’s growth,” says Tyler Johnson, Blueberry Commodity Manager with Rainier Fruit. “The philosophy in our company is that fruit does not get better after it is picked.” Today, Zirkle’s organic blueberry fields are planted from the Columbia Basin to North-Central Washington to avoid centralized weather events. “In addition, our entire blueberry crop is netted, helping protect the berries from birds and extreme weather damage. Mother Nature is known to throw a curve ball and while we cannot plan Mother Nature, we can invest in preventing the negative effects of extreme weather events.”
Rainier Fruit is the marketing company of Zirkle Fruit Company and Mark Zirkle, 5th generation grower of the Zirkle Family and current President of Zirkle Fruit Company discusses the benefits of being vertically integrated. “It allows for the entire process to run smoothly,” he said. “From field to package, the Zirkle family maintains control and utilizes generational knowledge, not just on the growing side but on the retail end as well.”
Tyler Johnson with Rainier Fruit.
All blueberries are organic
One hundred percent of Rainier Fruit’s blueberries are grown organically. “Harvest started the second week of June, and the crop is expected to have the same consistent, excellent quality as it had in years past,” commented Johnson. Zirkle Fruit has been growing blueberries for more than 10 years. “Despite our relatively short tenure, we’ve already begun investing in improved genetics that produce even larger, crunchier, and more flavorful berries.” As soon as the berries are picked, they go through an unbroken cold chain from the field to the customer. “We know every minute counts when it comes to maintaining longevity of shelf-life, maximum quality for the consumer, and repeat purchases for the retailer.”
Consumption boost during pandemic
Johnson is excited about demand. “Organic blueberries have been one of the fastest growing categories for several years. Because of their health benefits, demand got another boost during the recent consumer behavior shifts. More than ever, health-conscious consumers are looking for nutrient-dense, convenient snacks and fresh ingredients to add to their favorite staples,” he said. Consumers still make fewer trips to the store and are leaning towards bigger pack sizes. “With summer having officially started, consumers are excited for a taste of summer and we are excited to help set our partners up for another successful season.” Rainier’s organic blueberries are expected to be available through September.