Chinese Editors Meet Portlandia

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.


Frozen Blueberry Samples to India

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!

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Webtunes a big hit in Korea

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.

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Market Access

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!


Blueberries for the Carribbean

Blueberries for the Carribbean

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.


Non-food use of blueberries

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.

Last year we started to see dozens of blueberry scented and identified household cleaners, candles, cleaners and others.   Do they use real blueberries — not sure.   Do they provide blueberry exposure at the market — yes.   What does this all mean?   Blueberries have a “rock star” image and brand managers recognize this.   Not sure if we should take this all as an insult or compliment, but for now we will take exposure!
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China - Dish-washing Liquid
United Kingdom - Laundry Conditioner
USA - Blueberry Candle

Turkey Blueberry Mania

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.

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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!