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Rainier bullish on organic blueberries as 2017 season takes shape

As blueberry consumption continues to increase and demand ramps up as well, Rainier Fruit Co. in Yakima, WA, keeps pace with new varieties in its all-organic program.

And according to Rainier Director of Domestic Sales Blake Belknap, this year’s Northwest crop promises great fruit for a “blueberry-starved window” during late summer and into the fall.

He said, “For us here at Rainier, the 2017 season looks to be an excellent crop with availability starting in mid-June and promotable volume during the first six weeks and continued volume from August through October. We will work with our year-round partners in offering appropriate volumes in August, September and October to help them realize sales in this blueberry-starved window.”   

Rainier-Fruit-Organic-BlueberriesFresh organic blueberries from Washington are shipping now from Rainier Fruit Co. in Wenatchee, WA. Photo courtesy of Rainier Fruit Co.In describing the growing demand for the healthful blueberry, Vice President of Business Andy Tudor said consumption has gone up for several reasons.

“During the last five years, blueberry consumption has increased by over 50 percent, thanks to growing consumer awareness of the health properties of blueberries, as well as continued improvements of new varietals that raise the bar on shelf life, appearance, size and taste of blueberries,” Tudor said.

Rainier trials new varieties on an ongoing basis, Tudor said, including a new variety that is just coming into organic certification.

“Our growth is allowing us to add over three million pounds of additional production over the next two years,” he added.

Currently Rainier offers six varieties of blueberries that allows for marketable volumes starting in mid-June and running through late October.

“This is particularly beneficial to our customers in the late season months of September and October, when blueberry supplies are light throughout the rest of the market,” Belknap commented.

Promoting the category is done through “variety of tools that allow us flexibility based on general timing, peak harvest and demand, and focus on customization of programs based on each customer’s needs since we believe there is rarely a one-size-fits-all promotion that works for everyone,” Belknap said.

This year Rainier is debuting a Red, White & Blue retail promo that focuses on red cherries, Rainier cherries and blueberries for the summer season.

“This summer-themed campaign is a natural fit for some of the most iconic seasonal fruits,” Belknap said.

Tudor noted that the decision to go organic was made some years ago, explaining, “Our blueberry crop is 100 percent organic. We were able to speed up our learning curve in starting an organic blueberry program by applying much of what we learned in our early days of transitioning our apple production over to organics.”

Along the way there have been some adjustments here and there, and Tudor said, “Today all of our blueberries are grown under shade cloth which allows for better quality and an extended shelf life. When we chose to add blueberries to our overall program, we did so under the idea that consumers were continually making more health-conscious decisions and speculated that organics would grow to mainstream popularity, which has proven to be true.”

He continued, “We also made an internal commitment that organics were the right choice for our business as we planned for future generations and looked at our responsibility as being good stewards of the environment. Organics is about doing the right thing — a fundamental principle in our mission to be Wholesome to the Core. This type of commitment to quality and availability also makes us a valuable sourcing partner for our long-term customers.”

Rainier also works with its customers on pack options, providing 4.4-ounce, 6-ounce, 18-ounce and 24-ounce clamshells as well as a dry pint.

“We are a custom packinghouse and can tailor products for any customers needs,” Belknap said. “Throughout the 2017 crop, we will be packing more 18-ounce clams versus the traditional six-ounce, based on a recent trend of consumers opting to purchase more of the increased packaging sizes and moving away from small pack sizes.”