While Chile has seen an overabundance in blueberry production recently, imported blackberries are in good supply and imported raspberries are ramping up. The market has seen sufficient quantities of blueberries, largely due to Chile’s accelerated production and fewer chill hours. “That’s been radically different than last season in which production was quite behind and was affected by a freeze,” said Janice Honigberg, Sun-Belle’s president and founder. This year the fruit hasn’t been affected and with the warmer weather it’s weeks ahead. “Real peak production had arrived before Christmas.” It’s been a challenge to work with such large amounts of fruit coming in. According to the Chilean Blueberry Committee’s live stats, cumulatively 2,667,168 lbs. were shipped as of week 51 compared to 2,072,952 lbs. at the same time last year. “It’s pushed prices down and created opportunities for promotion into January.”
Good weather for blackberries
Blackberries from Central Mexico are in peak production, which will last through the middle of January. Weather permitting, Honigberg says they’ll have good supply all the way through the season and the next peak occurs in late April to the middle of May. “We’re currently at a peak because the weather has been tremendously beautiful. The demand is good in the US and in Europe and the fruit is moving well. We’re on track to have about 30-35% more than last year.” This year’s crop didn’t suffer last year’s poor weather conditions of rain, violent storms and a hurricane. “It took its toll throughout the season,” she said. Thankfully more growers have been able to participate and production hasn’t been interrupted. Prices are moderate to weak currently because the peak arrived through the short week of the holidays but Honigberg indicated it’s moving and should pick up again by the middle of January.
More raspberry volume starting in February
Raspberries are also currently in production from Central Mexico as well as Baja, California. “At this point we do have sufficient volume but we should have more volume from the middle of February through the middle of April. She hopes to do some more promotional activity surrounding the fruit. “We can probably do a bit more promotional activity that we didn’t think we could do in the 2nd half of January, even leading up to Valentines Day, which would be nice. We have sufficient production. We had thought we were tight so I think there’s enough to satisfy our markets which wasn’t very clear to us a few short weeks ago.”
Strawberries from Baja, Florida and Central Mexico
Sun-Belle is also drawing strawberries for the US market out of Florida and the same Central Mexico area; shortly they’ll also bring in berries from Baja. “This is a new product for us. We’ve been working out of Salinas and Santa Maria California since last summer but it’s a growing area for us,” she said. Approximately five to 10 per cent of the company’s fruit is shipped to Europe, another portion to Asia and the remainder is shipped within the US and Canada.
New variety testing
They’re evaluating new varieties in Mexico. “We’re making a concerted effort to increase production from Mexico,” Honigberg said. For their organic program Sun-Belle has seen very large growth in Chile and Peru – “about 2.5 times bigger than it was last year” from increased demand and interest in the company’s filling the demand. Sun-Belle is unique in its biodynamic production, with organic blueberries and organic cranberries under the Green Bell label.
Relocation to new facility
After 30 years in business, Sun-Belle relocated to a new facility in Oxnard California. It is 10,000 square feet of cold storage, cold prep space, offices, and docks. “That’s really worked out fantastically. We’re settling in and increasing our programs with this space available to us. We’re closer to the growing areas in California also,” said Honigberg.