Visiting Blueberry Farms

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!


Welcome Sunyong Lee: Korean Blueberry Pioneer

Welcome Sunyong Lee: Korean Blueberry Pioneer

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 bulgogibi 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!


South Korea Blueberry Mania Continues

I just checked the export statistics last night in anticipation of upcoming grower meetings.   Back in 2004 when USHBC began promotions — 350,000 lbs. of frozen blueberries. So far in 2014, more than 10 million lbs as of July 2014!

First of all — 감사합니다
Say Gam Sa Mee Dah thank you!!!

South Korea is now the largest offshore (non-Canadian) market for frozen blueberries. What is happening?
Health and beauty continue to drive demand. Where much of the blueberries in past years have been consumer polybag — now the major food manufacturers are getting into the act! That means long term usage.
Here are just a few items on the shelves in Korea this month.
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Blueberry Milk sold at convenience stores.
Blueberry Mochi - This is a rice based confectionery from Japan!
Blueberry Cake - Single Serving.

Pilgrimage to the Home of Highbush Blueberries

A century ago, farmer Elizabeth White and USDA Researcher Frederik Coville experimented with cultivation of wild highbush blueberries from the pine barrens of New Jersey.   If you want to see the beginnings, travel east from Philadelphia about one hour to Whitesbog.   Set your GPS to:

Whitesbog Preservation Trust
120 W Whites Bogs Rd #34
Browns Mills, NJ 08015

The short version:

Elizabeth White was a lady cranberry farmer at the turn of the century in the Pine forests of South New Jersey.   Her father was a cavalry officer at nearby Fort Dix.  It was incredibly rare to see a woman running a large scale farm operation in those days!    Each day she walked from her home (which is still there) down a shady road to her vast cranberry bogs.   She marveled at the abundance of wild blueberries in the forest and dreamed of the day that this could be cultivated into a commercial crop.   Wild highbush blueberries are not economically feasible for production and harvesting.   Elizabeth met up with a USDA researcher named Frederic Coville who also shared this dream.   The teamed up to perform the experiments which led to the development of highbush blueberry production.   They learned that blueberries required specific acidic soil types similar to the forests of New Jersey.   Elizabeth paid a bounty to local hunters to bring back big beautiful blueberry plants to her experimental farm.  (which is still there!)

The result:

Highbush blueberries flourished, and by 1916, her first commercial crop was market.   Yes, the Centennial is coming up!  And stay tuned as it will be a big celebration!    Elizabeth White’s work has led to the development of a blueberry industry in 28 states and around the world!

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Blueberries and the Times of India

The Times of India is one of the largest circulation newspapers in the world with more than 3.2 millon circulation in this nation of more than a billion!    The Times of India is a big blueberry booster!     Check out the latest news articles that seem to pop up weekly.

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How “Bout Dem Smoothies…

How “Bout Dem Smoothies…

A friendly blueberry grower down in Mississippi, called me the other day and asked me what I thought about ‘dem blueberry smoothies.  Everywhere you look — there are blueberry smoothies, different combinations of blue this and that.   What I think about blueberry smoothies is that a smoothie that is called a blueberry smoothie should use a lot of blueberries!    I checked the content of many commercial smoothies and was shocked.   Some have minimal blueberry and maximum blueberry image on the package and signage at the local smoothie shop.   We are on a quest now to raise the use of real frozen blueberries in smoothies.   With the supply, reasonable pricing of blueberries, this isa great opportunity to enhance a  product.   The first thing we leaned is that commercial manufacturers and outlets are not necessarily experts on blueberries.    We informed one commercial smoothie company in the South that they are surrounded by locally produced blueberries available all year round.  Different techniques can be used to deepen the blue color and keep it that way.    We hired a super chef at a major resort in California, who is also a smoothie and gelato expert.   Chef John took  frozen blueberries to his kitchen and concocted allsorts of great recipes.    They all used optimal amounts of blueberry and taste great!    We samples this at the recent International Deli Dairy and Baking Epo  (IDDBE)  in Denver and it was a hit!     Now spread the word!    Get ‘dem blueberries into your smoothies for health and happiness.


Preserved Blueberries

Preserved Blueberries

All of us in North America are lucky to have fresh and frozen blueberries available year round!  What do you do when you live in a country with high heat and humidity and a refrigerator fit for a dorm room?   Check out preserved blueberries!    Blueberry preserves have been around for a long time.   In fact they were canned for as a ration for the Union Army in the Civil War. Blueberries have always made a great jam and jelly and good ones are over 50 percent in fruit content.   Now a new generation of “jarred” blueberries are popular in Asia.   The concept: take fresh or frozen blueberries and suspend them in a syrup, water or honey.   This preserves the blueberry and the syrup is a delicious treat as well.   The shelf life is over a year.   Most important — it helps us spread the great taste and nutrition of blueberries around the globe!  (note this photo from rural Japan where the jarred blueberries are sold right above the fresh blueberries!


Fresh Blueberries in Japan

Fresh Blueberries in Japan

When I first vvisited Japan long ago, I had to search all over town for fresh or frozen blueberries.   Normally would end up at the Kinokuniya grocery store near all of the embassies and expat commnnity.   Now– they are everywhere!   Check out the blueberry promotions at Mami-Mart out in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo.    Consumers love their local Seibu Lions and blueberries!  Japan is already the leading offshore market for fresh blueberries, and this exposure ouside of Tokyo and Osaka will only drive sales to new heights!  Go go go Lions!   Go go blueberries!


Good Grief — Artificial Blueberries!

Good Grief — Artificial Blueberries!

Each month, i get messages from consumers asking about “artificial blueberries.”  As you can imagine, they are not happy that the product they just purchased with big-beautiful blueberry photos on the package — do not contain blueberries in the product.

This is an old problem, and thankfully it becomes less and less of a problem each year.

In the beginning, there were fresh blueberries, then frozen — and most blueberries went in these two directions.    With the development of processed foods,more and more products were developed as “Shelf stable” and with “intermediate moisture.”  Ingredients for these products must match specific moisture and water activity requirements.    Quite simply, if the available blueberry ingredients did not match, some manufacturers would choose blueberry “analogs.”    These included blue dyed dehydrated apples, blue colored grain bits and formed gum and fat bits.    These products must be labeled properly and will be described in the legal manner in  line with US Food and Drug Administration rules.

USHBC takes a positive  approach to the artificial blueberries.   First, we work to “gently” inform the manufacturers of the overwhelming consumer preference for real blueberries.   Also, we learned that consumers react very badly when they learn that a blueberry-identified product does not contain real blueberries.    Second, we explain the technical reasons why real blueberries do work in specific food product categories.  For example manufacturers can source blueberries in different moisture content.

Blueberries are sized and cut to specifications.
They work just about everywhere.

One big reason that companies have claimed to use artificial blueberries in the past is price.   In the past the further processed blueberries were on the pricey side, but with the dawn of the current supply and win-win sales proposition in the blueberry business — most of the products are in the same price range as the artificial.    We think the real product is an advantage in itself!


Blueberry Fiber – A new Ingredient with Potential

With all of the buzz about fiber in foods, a new product has entered the food ingredient market:  Blueberry Fiber.    When blueberry puree is made, the skins are normally removed in the process.   These skins are air dried down to a moisture content of around 15%.   From there the product can be milled down to various sizes.   How is it used:   Blueberry fiber has a neutral flavor and not a lot of sweetness and has been used in extruded snacks and pet foods.

It is also used in breakfast cereals and breads.    The star performance category has been the pet food category which has been covered regularly in this blog.    “Add blueberry fiber in the formula and post big beautiful blueberry photos on the package that appeal to the per owner.   What is in the blueberry fiber:
Here it is!


Blueberries to Brazil

Blueberries to Brazil

USHBC has been studying the Brazil market for several years, and it is beginning to look promising!
First of all, Brazilians love fruit and all sorts of exotic local and imports.

Second, Brazilians are extremely health conscious and have a “food as medicine” philosophy. USHBC initial efforts have been to support the fresh market.  Local production is centered in the south part of the country and the season is the exact opposite of the USA.

What really got me interested in Brazil was seeing the Brazilians visiting Miami and Orlando on holiday stocking up on fresh blueberries for the return home!   Brazil imports fresh blueberries from neighboring South American countries such as Argentina, Chile and Uruguay.    Currently fresh blueberries from the USA are air freighted to Sao Paulo, Brazil during the North American Summer.   Most are sold at very high-end grocery stores. Our first efforts in Brazil have been exhibitions such as the SIAL Brazil show.    Year one: we instructed visitors on “what is a blueberry.”   Year  two: we met enthusiastic blueberry converts.  Year three: our booth was mobbed by visitors in search of blueberries.

This year,Brazil will continue imports of fresh blueberries.   Now, food processors are also looking for frozen and further processed blueberries.  The future looks bright.

Obrigado!
In the pic: blueberry promotion at grocery store in Sao Paulo, Brazil.


Korean Visitors Tour Mississippi Blueberry Country

It is a long ways from Seoul Korea to Hattiesburg, Mississippi — but 14 Korean food industry professionals made the trek! Led by Mrs. Young Sook Oh of the USDA-Foreign Agriculture Service (FAS) the group headed north from New Orleans to Hattiesburg, Mississippi which is the center of the local blueberry production region.   Ethan Goggans, a Mississippi State University student and blueberry farmer, led the tour which included stops at Sandy Run Farm where the Korean visitors picked fresh blueberries and even got a chance to ride a harvester.    Afterwards, the crew tasted Southern cuisine including catfish and crayfish and of course local hot sauces which were a hit or the Koreans!


Institute of Food Technologists Meeting – New Orelans

Each year, USHBC exhibits at the annual meeting of the Institute of Food Technologists (IFT).    The meetings are rotated from areas of food processing, such as Chicago and Minneapolis to destinations such as Las Vegas, Orlando.  This year the meeting was held in New Orleans, Lousiana.

Did you know that blueberries are grown in the South, not far from the Crescent City.    Drive north towards Poplarville, Mississippi and you will drive right through the growing region.   Most of the blueberries produced in the area are from a Southern native species called Vaccinium Ashei.  This member of the highbush blueberry family is native to the south and is found in East Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Louisiana and Alabama.

The blueberry is commonly called the “rabbiteye”  because the unique look of the calyx.   For the IFT meeting, we had the pleasure of working with the local growers and Mr. Ethan Goggans of Sandy Run Farm in Purvis, Mississippi helped out with the booth and did an excellent job.   He brought several blueberry plants from the farm which were on display and this was a big hit — especially with foreign visitors.

http://www.sandyrunfarms.com/
Note: the Mississippi State University cowbell on display at the booth.


Return to Whitesbog

Whitesbog, New Jersey is the place where the highbush blueberry business began a century ago.   Elizabeth White, a cranberry farmer walked down a narrow road from her home to the cranberry bogs each day and dreamed about someday cultivating the “wild” highbush blueberries which grow abundently in the Jersey Pinelands.    Her dream came true and today you can still see the original experimental plantations at the Whitesbog Village.    The beautiful farm is located about one hr to the north of Hammonton, New Jersey which is touted to be the Blueberry Capital of the World!

Check out the website at:
http://www.whitesbog.org

Set your GPS to — 120 W Whites Bogs Rd #34, Browns Mills, NJ 08015


Beauty from Within in Vietnam

Vietnam is a country of vast natural beauty!   Now, it looks like blueberries are becomming the ingredient of choice for foods which are “good for the skin.”   All over Asia, manufacturers are producing products which contain ingredients which are associated with skin care.   They call the topical applications “Skin Food” and consumed foods: “Beauty from Within.”   Here are just a few new products with blueberries introduced in Vietnam which contain Blueberries!’

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