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Taste and health benefits make Eclipse berries a ‘win-win’

Continued rise in consumer demand for berries comes as no surprise to Stuart Gilfenbain of Eclipse Berry Farms LLC. How many other products taste like dessert, offer a good profit margin to retailers and have health benefits that exceed simple nutrition?

No wonder consumers are clamoring for more and more berries.

“We’re delivering healthy fruit that’s known to be high in antioxidants: red is good,” Mr. Gilfenbain said. “Consumers are now aware of health matters more than ever when they’re shopping. It’s a win-win situation.”

Founded in 1963, Eclipse Berry Farms grows strawberries, raspberries and grape tomatoes on more than 1,400 acres in Oxnard, CA; Watsonville, CA; and Salinas, CA. The company, based in Los Angeles, employs 50 people full-time and many seasonal workers.

Berries were once thought of as a special treat or luxury item. Consumers did not consider health benefits when they reached for a clamshell of strawberries or raspberries; they thought about dessert. Berries have become a staple in American diets and a star in the retail arena because of increased availability and scientific research that shows remarkable health benefits from the entire category.

And despite delays in the start of the season, production has ramped up at Eclipse Farms and the company will have a steady supply of high-quality fruit throughout the season.

Cooler-than-normal temperatures persisted well into July, slowing growth but helping plants set better. The result should be higher yields throughout the season.

Uncharacteristic rains early in the season also impacted quality and affected shipping. Wet berries lose valuable shelf-life due to moisture, which can lead to soft, soggy fruit or spawn mold blooms.

“If you don’t get that sunshine, you don’t get that moisture dried,” said Mr. Gilfenbain. “But the plants are setting up really nicely for a big August. We’ve had demand off the charts for the past month.”

The same weather that affected berries has also affected other commodities that grocers normally rely on for summer sales — like grapes. Ordinarily, strawberries would be the go-to product as a fill-in when other items are in short supply, but the statewide delay in this year’s crop has made for shortages that have demand for strawberries sky high.

The result has been a solid market for berries, which growers hope will remain strong as volume comes on.

“The crop is coming along really well,” said Mr. Gilfenbain. “The rain slowed us down but also gave us good healthy plant growth, so it looks like production will be excellent with outstanding quality.”