Recent Nielsen data shows fresh blueberries posted positive dollar gains in five of the nine sales regions of the country.
Progressive Grocer recently spoke with Kasey Cronquist, president of the Folsom, Calif.-based U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC), about this year’s crop and demand for blueberries.
Progressive Grocer:How would you describe demand for blueberries, especially as consumers concerned about well-being look for foods with health benefits, and as many are still cooking and preparing more foods and beverages at home?
Kasey Cronquist: Blueberries certainly have enjoyed strong demand for many reasons, with health benefits being at the top of that list. For years, the USHBC has funded health research that has allowed us to provide deeper analysis of just what those health benefits are, and that body of research has helped build upon the overall health halo blueberries have to offer, and has proven to pay dividends during this global pandemic.
We saw a huge spike in blueberry purchases during the pandemic, and as things are beginning to normalize this year, we’re seeing that blueberries are still performing impressively at retail, despite a decline in many other categories. Our most recent Nielsen data shows that while fresh blueberry retail sales overall declined only slightly (by 0.9%) compared to last April, fresh blueberries posted positive dollar gains in five of the nine sales regions of the country.
Additionally, sales of 18-ounce packages saw a 6.1% bump, despite 6-ounce packages decreasing 14.7%. And while frozen blueberry sales decreased 10.4% compared to last April, they were still 31.3% above pre-COVID sales in April 2019.
PG:How is the USHBC working to grow demand for blueberries?
KC: In June, we celebrate Brain Health Month, and have developed a toolkit providing a variety of assets and resources that can be used throughout the month to highlight blueberries’ role in brain health. Throughout the month, USHBC’s promotional campaign will highlight recipes, resources, nutrition information and health research that spotlight blueberries as a deliciously simple, snackable and healthy option.
We are also partnering with the California Walnut Board to launch a retail promotion and learning program that will evaluate the power of digital, in-store and retailer [retail dietitian] activations in Coborn’s, Rouses and Weis supermarkets – 290 stores across 12 regions – across the United States. The program consists of in-store displays promoting “Grab a Boost of Blue, and Walnuts, Too,” along with Facebook Live events, TV segments, e-newsletter placements and shoppable e-commerce banners. Registered dietitians will also speak to the health benefits of both blueberries and walnuts for Brain Health Month.
Then, moving into July, we celebrate National Blueberry Month, and have another toolkit to highlight blueberries during that time frame. The Brain Health Month and National Blueberry Month promotional campaigns are two of six “power periods” that support Grab a Boost of Blue, a strategic positioning and call to action backed by new tools and consumer research for retailers. Grab a Boost of Blue is designed to inspire and motivate consumers to enjoy more of the blueberries they love, in more ways and more often – ultimately driving demand and increasing sales. Retailers, food and nutrition professionals, and industry stakeholders are encouraged to participate and inspire their audiences to think about brain health, using the engaging, easy-to-use content developed by USHBC, including social media images, digital ads and other resources.
Progressive Grocer:What is the outlook for blueberry crops in strong growing regions of the country? Were there any weather-related issues this year?
KC: Early-season estimations were that this could be one of the largest crops going into the domestic season that we’ve ever seen, and we’ve heard a lot of optimism from most of the growing regions around the country. Unfortunately, significant weather challenges have affected North Carolina in particular, where an early May hailstorm described as “once in a lifetime” did significant damage to the crop there. We’ve also heard of late-season frost and cooler weather in some of the northern growing regions, but nothing that has significantly impacted the crop thus far.
The USHBC strives to share these types of insights and crop conditions with the industry on a regular basis. Each week on our podcast, “The Business of Blueberries,”we feature representatives from North and South American production regions who share their crop reports. So, that is a good source of information to keep a pulse on how the crop continues to look throughout the year, and as we head into peak production periods.