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California raspberries see gains in visibility and popularity

by Brian Gaylord | May 27, 2009
The berry patch is led by strawberries first and foremost, followed by blueberries, raspberries and blackberries. But raspberries are more than holding their own.

Nishan Moutafian, raspberry and blackberry business manager for Watsonville, CA-based Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., told The Produce News that the quality of Driscoll's raspberries is improving continually. The company's raspberries all are proprietary varieties.

"Our [raspberry] offering today is much more durable than three to five years ago," Mr. Moutafian said, adding that the company's aggressive raspberry breeding program has led to improvements in durability, flavor and appearance.

Driscoll has significantly increased its California raspberry acreage to keep pace with demand, Mr. Moutafian said. Throughout the country, raspberries are gaining in popularity as a year-round item, he added.

Driscoll grows raspberries in Oxnard, CA, on a year-round basis, but peak production is taking place now and continuing "over the next two months," Mr. Moutafian said. The company's raspberry harvest in Watsonville was just getting started and was expected to "come into its peak in the next month" and be strong through July before wrapping up, likely by the end of November, he said.

Driscoll's raspberry harvest in Santa Maria also is just getting started, should have strong volumes in July and wrap up in December. The company has increased its overall raspberry acreage and has a "marvelous offering" with its crop, Mr. Moutafian said.

Raspberry promotions for the Memorial Day holiday were projected to be successful, he said.

Mr. Moutafian said that the company expects a "great demand" for raspberries for the Fourth of July as well as for its entire berry patch, including strawberries, blueberries and blackberries. The Fourth of July is a "berry patch holiday" for both conventional and organic berries, he said. "In the past few years, we've had significant growth in organic raspberries," Mr. Moutafian said, adding that the raspberry program continues to grow in acreage and production.

The company's entire berry patch should be strong from mid-July onward, Mr. Moutafian said.

This coming winter, Driscoll will make a push for greater raspberry production and expects to have a big increase in production in Mexico, Mr. Moutafian said.

Driscoll is experiencing increased demand for its golden raspberries, which it grows in Oxnard and Watsonville, he said.

California Giant Berry Farms' raspberry harvest in Watsonville, CA, typically kicks off in May and runs through the summer.

Cindy Jewell, director of marketing for the Watsonville, CA-based firm, said that retailers increasingly want "beauty shots" of raspberries to run with their advertisements.

Depending on the weather, Cal Giant harvests raspberries from May to November. The company's raspberry harvest typically enjoys two peaks: one around early June and another in September.

Cal Giant's raspberry program in Oxnard, CA, started in April and will run to about the Fourth of July. Ms. Jewell said that the quality is "great" and that Oxnard is a "good region for growing raspberries."

Cal Giant's raspberry acreage in California is on a par with last year, Ms. Jewell said.

Perishablility issues bring a sense of urgency to sales of raspberries, which are hollow and relatively delicate. Ms. Jewell said that raspberries add glamour to foodservice as a component in deserts.

A chef has developed recipes for raspberries and other berries exclusively for Cal Giant, which the company posts on its web site.

Naples, FL-based Naturipe Farms LLC grows the majority of its California raspberries in Watsonville, with the majority of its program consisting of conventionally grown fruit. Its raspberry harvest in Watsonville began the first week of May.

Brian Bocock, vice president of sales, told The Produce News May 27 that the company's California raspberry harvest should peak in early June, drop a bit and then peak again in early to mid-August. The harvest likely will wrap up in early October, he said.

"Quality is pretty good," Mr. Bocock said. "We haven't hit the summer heat." Naturipe did not have enough real volume for Memorial Day promotions, but it should fare better for Fourth of July promotions, Mr. Bocock said.

Naturipe works primarily with public raspberry varieties but also will ship a small volume of its proprietary fruit this year. The company tries to breed for flavor, looks and durability.

"All three [elements] are equally important," Mr. Bocock said, adding that the company also breeds for yield per acre, and that it's "very difficult" to nail all four of those desired outcomes.

Mr. Bocock said that the amount of raspberries sold industrywide in North America five or 10 years ago pales by comparison with today.

"The whole berry category has exploded," Mr. Bocock said. "Provide a good- looking pack that eats well at a good price, and consumers will buy them."