14 CHANGE vital

Open varieties are becoming fewer, meaning smaller growers could be excluded from the new varieties tailored to meet specific needs. Steve Taylor, managing

director of Winterwood Farms Ltd. in the UK, offered the summit a glimpse of the transformation taking place in the market. To maintain the quality of

fruit reaching consumers, he said, some UK grocers only buy the varieties they believe have the least chance of disappointing consumers. Varieties have to measure up, or years of investment risk being for naught. “We’re all very optimistic

International Blueberry Organization summit participants taste and talk about local berries at Valley Select Foods in Abbotsford. PETER MITHAM PHOTO

when we look at the sales of blueberries going through the roof, but there are certain areas where the future doesn’t look bright,” Taylor said, noting that Elliott and other late-season varieties have been left behind. “The customers no longer want

COUNTRY LIFE IN BC • AUGUST 2019 nfrom page 13

that now. They’ve swapped to Peruvian and South African fruit and they’re willing to pay more money for that fruit. It’s not a question of new varieties being planted. That market’s now gone.”

Local support

But local still rules in BC, said Brad Olsen, a customer product manager overseeing produce for Save-On-Foods. This is a direct response to consumer demand, he explained. “As long as we have BC-

grown product, or Canadian- grown product, we’ll look after our economy and our farmers here before we go outside,” he said, to audience applause. But Tom Richardson, vice-

president, global development with Giumarra Cos. of California, said growers need to be aware of the big picture. BC, for example, sells just 30% of its crop locally, meaning it’s hugely dependent on the rest of North America and Asia. “While your local folks may

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support the industry, if you lose the Asia market as a BC grower, if you lose the North America market as a BC grower, come the end of August when big, firm, sweet crunchy blueberries that are 22 mm on average arrive to market and you’re selling Elliotts or Auroras, I’m just telling you folks that you’re going to have some challenges,” he said. “The retailers outside Canada are going to choose that big, bloomy blueberry over Elliott seven days out of seven.” This is a key risk to growers,

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who have pinned their fortunes on the fruit. Quantity isn’t the issue so much as quality and price, said Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Naturipe Farms LLC in Salinas, California. He thinks there’s plenty of room in the market for growers, but they have to deliver top-quality fruit on a consistent basis. Right now, he says berries satisfy consumers just 20% of the time. “We have to be

sophisticated on the demand- creation side to keep up with production,” he said. “We have to be more sophisticated … to grow demand and be able to work on the grower profitability side.”

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