Chocolate Covered Blueberries! Yes, they have been around a long time in specialty shops and retailers. but, check out the new wave of chocolate covered (panned) blueberries on the marketplace. Companies like Ghiradelli, Dove Moonstruck and others are getting into the act. Most interesting: note the prominent identification on the package! We recently visited the Moonstruck facility in Portland Oregon with Chinese food editors (food editors from China). They were amazed at the place, and me too! (photos in an upcoming blog post!)
USHBC is planning a full slate of exhibitions in 2015, including Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) regional Supplier Nights and expositions. Dates have not been set in most cases, but we are planning on the following cities.
- New York/New Jersey (Somerset, New Jersey)
- Dallas IFT, (Frisco Texas)
- Chicago IFT, (Rosemont, Illinois)
- Lake Erie, (Cleveland, Ohio)
- Great Lakes, (Battle Creek, Michigan)
For years, Blueberry Guy has preached to the blueberry industry on the importance of keeping processed blueberries in the “Research and Development” pipeline. The rationale: about one half of all of the blueberries produced go to the food processing sector. That is, fillings, bakery items, confections dairy and snacks. A typical grocery store stocks 30,000 items. And at the same time — around 2,500 new items are introduced each month!
These items are developed through a process of research and development or as we say in the business: R & D.
A typical company will have a structure with management on top and then marketing or brand management, production and processing & Quality Control and R&D.
The R&D staff work on the next product for a company. Marketing and management express their direction and R&D will implement. The R&D staff are normally food technologists which degrees and training in food science and sub-fields such as food engineering, microbiology and others. The R & D job is to take general ideas and refine them into products. First they develop prototypes or concepts. These are tested internally and externally. The product is refined, further tested and eventually test marketed. It takes a lot of time and money to bring a product to market.
Also, not very many new products are successful. But, considering that most companies rely on new products for a large chunk of their profits — it is worth the effort. USHBC works with the Marketing and R & D of companies. We engage and learn of the company needs and fill the information gaps with blueberry solutions. Companies look to the USHBC as a partner in product development, and improvement. Together we keep driving blueberries into more and more products that will keep filling the pipeline for years to come.
For the second year, USHBC has supported fresh blueberry sales to Korea with a PR and sampling program. According to the State of Oregon Department of Agriculture, more than 1.5 million lbs of fresh blueberries were sent to Korea for the 2014 season. Below see the kick off promotion at Korean supermarkets which connected beauty to blueberries!
USHBC sponsored a visit of TV and magazine journalists to Portland Oregon this summer and it has really helped bridge the information gap between our two countries.
Editors visited farms, packing facilities, further processors and a major blueberry candy producing company called Moonstruck. A highlight was a visit to Voodoo Donuts in Portland and the my favorite the Burning Boar Barbecue in St. Paul, Oregon.
The editors have returned to China and are now educating their readers on the good-natured blueberry producers in the Pacific Northwest! This is good timing as the Chinese government evaluates market access for US blueberries.
Back in the 1890s in New England, huge blocks of ice were cut from frozen lakes, were taken to ports and loaded on specially insulated sailing ships for months long voyages to the temperate zones of the Southern Hemisphere. Most of the cargo would melt, but what was left was worth a fortune in steamy Calcutta India. Imported ice was cut into cubes for gin and tonics, ice cream and as novelty for ice carvings in the colonial grandeur of India.
Today, USHBC has initiated a new ice trade — shipping frozen samples of blueberries to the sub-continent for trials with food processors. When we first visited India, lots of companies such as dairy, baking and confectionery — needed blueberry fillings. Filling companies needed blueberries and we had a chicken and egg situation. Filling companies were unfamiliar with blueberries and asked for samples. Shipping one case was almost impossible — especially with post 9-11 restrictions on dry ice for air freight.
USHBC bridged the gap with a sampling program called Quality Samples Program or QSP. The USDA-Foreign Agriculture Service provided a grant to USHBC where we could land supplies of frozen blueberries to India for non commercial testing and evaluation. We also provided technical assistance and help with formulation and troubleshooting.
This program was just launched recently but already we have seen success with one major filing company developing a product for nationwide distribution. Others are on deck!
What is a webtune you ask? Simply a cartoon posted on a website. USHBC recently conducted a successful webtune campaign in conjunction with fresh blueberry promotions. This included eight different episodes of a Whimsy family who discovers fresh blueberries and relies on our Super Mascot Blue-Me who saves the day in various situations including finding blueberries int he store, overcoming a bad skin day and even helping junior get better eyesight and smarts for exams. My favorite is the episode where dad becomes a blueberry maniac and the family quickly reacts to feed his insatiable appetite for blueberries thanks to help from the super mascot.
The USA is the leading producer of blueberries in the world. After all, this is the place where blueberry cultivation began almost 100 years ago. We produce fresh blueberries from March and April in Florida — all the way until late September in the Pacific Northwest. The remaining months –we import fresh blueberries from countries to the south of us. More than $300 million in value each year. Did you realize that there are several producing countries in the world which do not allow entry of US fresh blueberries.
A country has the right to restrict imports for scientifically valid reasons. For example if a country is concerned of a specific pest or market disruption by imports. Typically, restrictions are not necessarily aimed to keep US products out — but the import country will require documentation to assure them that product is safe and not a danger to local agriculture.
We do the same for products entering the USA. The USHBC and North American Blueberry Council (NABC) is involved in market access work to gain entry to China and South Korea (other than Oregon which already has access). We work with our partners at the US Department of Agriculture — Animal Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) who negotiate on our behalf with their counterpart agency in the import country.
USHBC/NABC works to provide APHIS with the tools necessary to gain market access including voluminous information on our industry and a comprehensive list of pests. This information is shared with the import country along with mitigating measures which are taken to ensure safety. This is a long and arduous process and we will will keep up the fight till we get access!
Blueberry Guy just returned from the Americas Food Show in Miami Beach Florida. First impression — did not hear English spoken from time the flight landed till return. This is definitely the capital city of all of Latin America and the place where business is done. We participated in a trade mission organized by the World Trade Center of Miami and the group sponsored buyers from all over the Caribbean basin. This included many of the island nations and colonies such as Bermuda, Bahamas, Jamaica, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago and others. What we learned: these countries are small but they import much of their food stuffs. With the huge hotel and resort trade, they are in the market for products such as blueberries. They want fresh, frozen and dried as well as liquid. With growing US production in the Southeast, this is a very logical and lucrative market for the future.
We blueberry guys were quite surprised a decade ago when we started noticing new product introductions in non-human food product areas such as pet foods and cosmetics. Now — we are noticing a new way-out-there category: Non-Foods and household products.
Blueberry guy just returned from a visit to Turkey and was thrilled with the blueberry excitement. In stores: fresh blueberries in produce departments, blueberry beverages, dairy and even frozen blueberries. The star performer: dried blueberries. Turkey has a huge dried fruit and Turkish delight confectionery tradition and blueberries fit right in! USHBC will begin market development activities in the Turkey in the new year.
One request I always get — how can I visit a blueberry farm? My suggestion is check out the online u-pick directory — http://www.nabcblues.org/upick.htm
Note the season starts in the Spring in Florida and the South and ends up in the Pacific Northwest in the Fall. With all of the crazy weather we have had all over the country — the typical schedules have changed a bit — so I always advise to check out the websites of the different u pick farms and look for the actual schedules. Most are posting dates and times.
Even though the season is ended, you can still check out some of the farms which have farm sales and stores. You can find blueberry preserves, pies and sometimes frozen blueberries.
Have a great time and remember to check ahead!
Now that we are on the Korean topic, let’s talk about the guy who helped make the blueberry fever happen. He is on a vacation in California now and we connected for a chat and some soju last night to talk about old times in the Korean market. Sunyong is a Food Scientist and Seoul University graduate and worked in the food industry for decades. His hobby is mountain climbing and he maintains membership in the Seoul University Mountaineering Club.
Back in his days in the food industry Sunyong was one of the first to appreciate blueberries. He worked to develop some of the first blueberry-containing dairy items in the early 80s. Some of them are still selling well. Each time I came to Korea we visited companies and promoted blueberries. He went so far to help companies source full container loads of blueberries. These new products gave Korean consumers a taste of blueberries and by the end of the 90s — blueberries were everywhere!
Back to his “retirement.”
Besides mountain climbing on weekends all over Korea, Sunyong is also a blueberry grower and adviser to other growers. We attended the first annual Korea blueberry festival and feasted on blueberry bulgogi, bi bim bap and of course blueberry soju! (alcohol beverage). He continued to help Korean companies locate prized blueberries. He is always contacting his buddies at Korean companies to talk new product ideas with blueberries.
Now, USHBC has finally figured a way to harness his blueberry energy and Sunyong has agreed to serve as our “blueberry food industry ambassador.” He will be helping — doing what he already does so well. Promote blueberries and blueberry products!