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Michigan cranberry deal expanding for Mike Pirrone Produce

Fresh cranberries in recent years have been added to the sales offering of Mike Pirrone Produce, based in Capac, MI.

Joe Pirrone, a consultant to Mike Pirrone Produce, said: “We have been in the cranberry business for maybe three years.”  

About two years ago the DeBlouw family bought Mike Pirrone Produce from Joe Pirrone, whose father founded the Capac, MI-based operation in 1951.

The grower working with Pirrone Produce is Michigan Cranberry Co., which has offices in Marlette, MI, and bogs in Cheboygan, MI.  Cheboygan is on Lake Huron very near the far northern tip of the “mitten” of Michigan.  

Pirrone said his company’s cranberry deal “is growing. What is great for us is that there is such a desire on the part of retailers to market ‘local’ product, and this is local. This has great potential. It is a specialized deal.”  

Cranberry production is unlike growing field crops, he added, and “you’ve got to know what you’re doing. It’s a long-term deal and long-term investment.”

Salesman Mark Huggett, whose father, Wallace Huggett, created Michigan Cranberry Co. in 1991, said his firm expanded from processed to fresh cranberries about five years ago.  

Huggett told The Produce News that he expected to begin harvesting cranberries in late September and anticipated the harvest to end in late November. The later the berries are harvested, the longer shelf life they have.

“Except for the first two weeks of harvest, we have a long shelf life,” he said.

Huggett added: “We think the cranberry crop looks decent, or above average. But with cranberries it is hard to tell. It is a low-lying plant. Until you flood, it’s hard to tell” too much about the crop.

“We will ship fresh cranberries until they’re gone,” he added. “That will mostly be by December 1. If there is more of a crop and demand, we will continue to ship. The big target is Thanksgiving.”

The demand for Thanksgiving holiday cranberries picks up in late October and “seems heaviest until the week before Thanksgiving, and then it lets up. By then grocers want it in the store for a week or two before Thanksgiving. There is still demand for Christmas, but not as strong as for Thanksgiving.”  

Huggett said Pirrone has proven especially valuable in opening retail accounts for Michigan Cranberry.

Michigan Cranberry traditionally has packed 24 12-ounce packs of fresh cranberries for the fresh market, but Huggett added that there is “a good possibility” of expanding to a three-pound pack “before the end of the season.”

Michigan Cranberry produces 260 of Michigan’s 300 acres of cranberries. There are three other Michigan commercial cranberry growers.

Huggett said cranberries were once abundantly produced in southwest Michigan. These were sent by barge to Chicago. But that practice ended during The Great Depression.