TRENTON, NJ -- A cold winter and a normal, wet spring have provided growing conditions that should result in a great crop of large, exceptional quality New Jersey blueberries.
Almost as if following a recipe for creating the perfect berry, the cool spring conditions aided by plenty of rain facilitated the gradual maturation process that should translate into excellent sized berries. Then, as if on cue, by Memorial Day the weather shifted into summer mode, complete with high temperatures and humidity, which begin the harvesting process.
Some growers are expecting to begin picking the Duke variety beginning the weekend of June 11, and all growers are advising retailers that there will be plenty of volume in time for the Fourth of July holiday.
Tim Wetherbee, sales manager at Diamond Blueberry Inc. in Hammonton, NJ, said that the Duke variety looks good and that the Bluecrop variety looks great.
"Having ridden around the fields during the past several weeks, I am encouraged by the potential volume and quality of this year's crop," said Mr. Wetherbee. "Overall, this year should be a better year than last in terms of volume."
Art Galletta, sales manager at Atlantic Blueberry Co., also in Hammonton, agreed with Mr. Wetherbee.
"The season is shaping up to be a good one. Given the excellent weather conditions thus far, I think consumers will be very pleased with New Jersey blueberries this year," said Mr. Galletta. "We have already noticed much interest from the trade, and pre-bookings have been very strong."
Mr. Galletta attributed the interest to several factors.
"First, nothing beats a hand-harvested, cultivated blueberry. Secondly, New Jersey's sandy acidic soil combined with our distinctive climate contributes to providing New Jersey blueberries with their unique taste. As soon as New Jersey blueberries enter the market, there is a definite level of excitement among the trade for the eight to 10 weeks we are in season."
Vincent Consalo, president of Wm. Consalo & Sons Farms in Vineland, NJ, concurred with Mr. Galletta's observations.
"I think New Jersey's blueberry growers can expect a great season as long as the weather cooperates," said Mr. Consalo, whose company ships blueberries all along the East Coast and into eastern Canada. "Our customers look forward to New Jersey's blueberry season. Once the berries hit the market, you really notice a significant increase in retail blueberry promotion and merchandising."
Mr. Consalo also believes that consumer demand for locally grown products has helped drive interest in New Jersey blueberries.
"The locally grown trend has shown no signs of abating," he remarked. "In fact, consumer interest in locally grown farm products has helped us in our efforts to drive sales."
Because of good industry demand, Mr. Consalo advised all buyers to keep in constant contact with their suppliers for up-to-date information.
Francisco Allende, general manager of Sunny Valley International in Glassboro, NJ, also is expecting a great season. Mr. Allende expects to begin picking the Duke variety the weekend of June 11, and he expects to pack between 60,000 and 70,000 flats during that first week. Like the others, Mr. Allende has noticed much pre-sale interest.
"We pride ourselves on customer service," he said, "Consequently, we can respond to a customer's demand and adjust our packingline to meet any specifications on packaging."
Mr. Allende also credited a strong food safety program that provides an additional comfort level for retailers seeking to buy New Jersey blueberries.
"All our growers are required to utilize a food safety program," said Mr. Allende. "In an effort to bring the best and safest possible product to our customers, all our growers and their facilities have been audited by a third-party auditing system."
He added, "We already have most of our early blues pre-booked, and we have noticed better-than-expected customer interest. For retailers, the huge volumes that will be available for July 4 will make it easy for them to enjoy exceptional promotional opportunities."
In order to maintain consumer excitement for Jersey blueberries, the New Jersey Blueberry Industry Advisory Council will be promoting the state's blueberries throughout the Eastern Seaboard.
Mr. Wetherbee, who serves as chairman of the council, announced that the group has organized an aggressive marketing campaign intended to create trade and consumer awareness and demand for New Jersey blueberries. Designed to complement the New Jersey Department of Agriculture's Jersey Fresh advertising and promotional program, the council will use this highly successful brand image to benefit the promotion of blueberries to consumers long aware of Jersey Fresh.
"The Jersey Fresh blueberry promotional plan will be a multimedia advertising effort that will include trade print ads, retail point-of-purchase materials, radio advertising and consumer promotions," said Mr. Wetherbee.
Mr. Wetherbee also noted that the council has purchased space for blueberry ads, which will appear in major trade publications throughout June and into July.
The council has worked with a media company to develop a 30-second radio commercial, which will alert listeners about the availability of Jersey Fresh blueberries. These ads will air in Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York and into New England.
To help consumers identify New Jersey-grown blueberries, Jersey Fresh price cards have been developed and will be distributed through retail markets.
(Al Murray is New Jersey's assistant secretary of agriculture. For more on New Jersey blueberries, see the June 13, 2011, issue of The Produce News.)