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Westlake Produce Co., headquartered in Los Angeles, with East Coast operations in Winter Haven, FL, expects to move 2.5 million pounds of Florida blueberries this season with a great crop and superb sizing already on the bush.

Westlake’s Florida deal could begin as early as mid-March barring any damage from a mild March 4 freeze that nipped at the edges of central Florida groves. The deal should reach volume by April 1.

More importantly, consumers will be getting even better berries from Westlake this season than before, with new varieties promising more flavor, size and firmness.

WEstlakeWestlake Produce Co., headquartered in Los Angeles with East Coast operations in Winter Haven, FL, expects to move 2.5 million pounds of Florida blueberries this season. Here, the company’s Jack Cain, Craig Merrill, Matt Sumner and Branden Mullis are shown in their booth at Southern Exposure in Orlando, FL. (Photo by Chip Carter)“The quality looks good, we’re talking 22 million to 23 million pounds on the bush statewide and we are up to 2.5 million pounds ourselves,” said Vice President of Sales and Marketing Jack Cain. “A lot of growers put in better varieties, newer varieties. The days of low-taste, early-harvest varieties are gone. We’re looking at bigger size, a lot firmer berry with more crunch to them.”

Mr. Cain said Westlake is excited about the upcoming season and ready to get rolling.

“We’re looking forward to it. We’ve got some good growers in place up through central Florida, we’ve got good trading partners up in Georgia and North Carolina, so we’re really looking forward to a great season. The berries on the bush are looking good, the size is really nice right now. Last year we had a half a crop because we got hail and a freeze. We thought we were going to come into too early a window this season because Chile was still coming, but talking to retailers they’re saying they’re willing to pay a little bit more money for better fruit,” he said.

He continued, “I just hope the sticker shock doesn’t hit them. We need to get a premium for the Florida berries due to labor and other costs. There is still economic hardship and tightness out there but people will pay for quality. Instead of just potatoes and carrots and onions they’re looking for berries and quality sells. If you’ve got good quality people are going to pick it up.”

Westlake’s label tapes for its “Always Fresh” brand products are printed with emblems that let consumers know exactly where their berries came from. Westlake’s first domestic berries of the season will bear the state Department of Agriculture’s official “Fresh from Florida” emblem. As the deal progresses northward, tapes reflecting other production areas will come into play.

There will also be new packaging available as well in the form of an 11-ounce declared weight dry pint.

All of Westlake’s blueberries carry a HarvestMark code for immediate traceability back to the farm. “That’s important, especially with blueberries because a lot of people eat them right out of the cup. They can go to that HarvestMark website, put in the code, and find out anything about the berries they are eating, right down to grower and the day they were picked, “ Mr. Cain said. “With a brand name like ‘Always Fresh,’ the onus is on us to make sure we do a good job and give our customers premium berries.”