Highbush blueberry production continues to ride a wave toward global production that is predicted to crest at 1.4 billion pounds in 2015, according to the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC).
Recently released 2012 crop estimates from the USHBC show that in North America, total commercial highbush production in 34 states and British Columbia totaled 559.4 million pounds in 2012, a 5 percent increase over 2011, and a notable 32 percent increase over 2008 production.
Nearly half the 2012 North American production (285.9 million pounds) comes from the West coast region. Since 2008, California production nearly tripled and Washington more than doubled. British Columbia and Oregon have expanded steadily but in smaller increments. The Southern region, with nearly a quarter of total North American production (138.5 million pounds), is the other high-growth region where Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina have shown significant increases over the past five years. Michigan, with a long history as the highest producing state, maintains its lead with a total 76.3 million pounds. New Jersey, where the cultivated blueberry industry was born nearly 100 years ago, contributed 51 million pounds in 2012.
Meanwhile, South America shatters its own production records with Chile leading the charge. Chilean exports to the U.S. in the 2012/13 season are forecast at 79,400 tons, approximately 12 percent more than 2011/12, down from original forecasts due to excessive rain and frost. The South American season—which starts in September, peaks in mid-December and ends in late April—allows for year-round availability of fresh blueberries in the U.S. With Chile predicting 50 percent growth over the next five seasons, South America will continue its contribution to the growing wave of global blueberry production.
At the same time as production is booming, U.S. per capita consumption continues to rise. From an estimated 15.8 ounces in 2000/01, consumption in 2011/12 is up to 36.2 ounces, a 129 percent increase.
“We know that blueberry’s ‘health halo’ has motivated consumption and will continue to be a prime driver,” says Mark Villata, executive director of the USHBC. “Meanwhile, our blueberry lifestyle campaign, Little Blue Dynamos, is now in full swing. The campaign is very upbeat and shows blueberries as a part of active, healthy lives.
“In recent years, our primary marketing target has evolved to include the consumer group with the greatest ‘next tier’ potential to increase blueberry sales – women aged 25-45, augmenting traditional blueberry purchasers, who are in the 45-60 range,” Villata continues. “Little Blue Dynamos is designed to speak to consumers with messaging that appeals to their priorities and needs.”