Trenton, NJ — A very mild winter followed by an unseasonably warm spring has brought New Jersey blueberries to market well ahead of normal schedule. Most growers are noting they are well into harvest, and supplies and quality are excellent.
Unlike the previous winter that brought record snowfall and freezing temperatures to the Garden State, the 2011-12 winter season was the complete opposite. Consequently, the state’s blueberry bushes came through unscathed by any winter or frost damage. With temperatures soaring into the 80s during some periods in March and April, the bloom process was accelerated, which eventually translated into blueberriesbeing picked by June 1.
Growers are impressed with what they see in the fields, and said that there will be plenty of New Jersey blueberries for the Fourth of July holiday.
Tim Wetherbee, sales manager for Diamond Blueberry Inc., said that the Duke and Bluecrop varieties looked great, and there appears to be plenty of blueberries in the field.
“The spring weather we experienced has certainly pushed up the harvest dates; however, from all accounts, this is shaping up to be a great year in terms of volume and quality,” Mr. Weatherbee said.
Art Galletta, sales manager for Atlantic Blueberry Co., agreed.
“When we entered the bloom phase so early in the season, many of us knew the entire New Jersey crop was extremely vulnerable to a late frost,” he said. “However, Mother Nature cooperated, and now consumers have been treated to Jersey Fresh blueberries earlier than normal. I think it was an unexpected surprise for consumers, but certainly welcomed by the industry.”
David Arena, president of Frank Donio Inc., advises that buyers should anticipate promotional volumes sooner than traditional dates. Frank Donio Inc. packs under the “Top Crop” label.
“We started picking 10 days earlier than usual,” said Mr. Arena. “Judging from what I’m seeing in the fields, merchandisers should consider earlier promotions for this year. Absent from any late weather events, I think this is shaping up to be a good year.”
Vincent Consalo, president of William Consalo & Sons Farms, said that his customers are aware that New Jersey blueberries will be early this year and that he received constant inquiries from customers all along the Eastern Seaboard and eastern Canada.
“They are all aware that the New Jersey crop is early this year, and that has generated great excitement,” Mr. Consalo said. “Our customers look forward to the arrival of the Jersey season, and they really enjoy the promotional opportunities these berries provide.”
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 for Sunny Valley Inc./Jersey Fruit, also noted great interest from the trade.
“We started 10 days early and the blues looked great right from the start,” Mr. Allende said. “Everyone in the industry knew that New Jersey was going to begin harvesting early, and consequently, we received lots of calls asking when we would be starting, and when can customers start running ads.”
In order to maintain consumer excitement for New 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 multi-media advertising effort that will include trade print ads, retail point of purchase materials, radio advertising and consumer promotions,” said Mr. Wetherbee.
He also said 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.
For more information about the Jersey Fresh program, visit www.state.nj.us/agriculture/divisions/md/prog/jerseyfresh.html.
(Al Murray is New Jersey’s assistant secretary of agriculture.)