30 Jul 2022

UNITED STATES, THE SECRETS OF A SUPPLY CHAIN THAT HAS BEEN W...

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John Reuben Clark is professor emeritus of horticulture at the University of Arkansas (U.S.); he has worked in fruit breeding for more than 35 years and has developed or co-developed more than 50 varieties, with a focus on berries. In this article he explains what are the outstanding features of the U.S. supply chain of blueberries.

Over the years in fruit production classes, I have always presented blueberries as our newest berry crop. I used to tell the story of Dr. Fred Coville's work with the USDA on varietal selection of blueberry highbush in the early 1900s.

As a native of the southern United States, I did not come in contact with a cultivated blueberry plant until I was 23 years old. I began working with this exciting berry in 1980, when I joined Dr. Jim Moore at the University of Arkansas. He established the first variety trial of blueberry in the region.

I have enjoyed the years of research on blueberries and am still amazed at how the cultivation and consumption of this "new" berry has expanded nationally and globally.

One aspect that I most admire about the U.S. blueberry industry is the fundamental support it has given to research and promotion of this fabulous crop.

Many of you are familiar with the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS R&P) research and promotion program. The program was first authorized by the U.S. Congress in 1966 and currently has 22 programs covering a wide range of agricultural sectors. The blueberry industry voted to establish a program in 2000 and theU.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC) was established to oversee it.

United States: a moment from the conference of NABC and USHBC
Industry professionals attending the North American Blueberry Council (NABC) + U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council (USHBC) Spring Forward conference visit a blueberries farm in Florida.
Photo courtesy of USHBC.

As stated on its website, the USHBC "represents growers and packers of blueberries from North and South America who market their blueberries in the United States and abroad and works to promote the growth and well-being of the entire blueberriesindustry."

CONSTANT SUPPORT

One exciting aspect of the AMS R&P initiative for blueberries is that it has been renewed four more times, with the most recent industry referendum to be held in 2021. The AMS reported that 84% of manufacturers and importers voted in favor of maintaining the USHBC and its efforts. This represents 93% of the volume of blueberries grown. Surprisingly, this vote represents a 10% increase over the producers and importers who voted in favor of the last program renewal in 2016.

Those eligible to vote for the continuation of the AMS R&D program for blueberry were growers in the U.S. who produce 2,000 lbs. or more of blueberries highbush domestically, or importers who contribute 2,000 lbs. or more of blueberries fresh or processed to the U.S. market. It is clear that the Council is doing something very useful and constructive for growers with this level of continued support.

Has the program had an impact? Here are some data shared by the USHBC:

  • blueberries are now on one in four menus in the restaurant industry, with 93 percent more restaurants offering blueberries than in 2005.
  • In 2019, 49% of U.S. households purchased blueberries -a 25% increase in annual household penetration over the previous six years.
  • Seventy-six percent of food producers surveyed said they use blueberries as an ingredient in their company's products, a higher number than any other berry.

SPREAD THE WORD

As a researcher, I have always been impressed by the USHBC's support for research into the health properties of blueberries. The USHBC says it has "invested in and promoted the results of $10 million in nutrition research. As a result, by 2020, 87 percent of all media coverage on blueberries will include positive health messages, and 86 percent of dietitians and nutrition influencers will recommend blueberries to their patients or clients."

I believe that most U.S. consumers recognize that blueberries are healthy, and this message will only get stronger with the continued emphasis on health benefits.

Many years ago, I remember sensing the spirit of cooperation that existed among industry leaders at blueberries. From conversations with long-time leaders in the industry at blueberry, such as Dave Brazelton, Tom Avinelis, Rod Cook, and others, I could imagine that industry harmony was beneficial to all involved. The collaborative nature of the blueberries community was evident from the beginning. I believe the AMS R&P program for blueberries is a key achievement for industry leadership."

Kasey Cronquist, president of the USHBC, said, "This industry is like a family. This is a strong statement of unity and proof that the spirit of cooperation is still strong in the community of blueberries.

I know that other berry crops could benefit from the AMS R&P program. All berry crops are trying to gain more market share through increased promotion and consumption, and as we all know, the entire berry category offers an exceptional consumer experience.

It seems that nowadays our society is often subjected to strong pressures and disagreements on many issues. The blueberries industry is a perfect example of collaboration for the good of all. Long live the berries!

Source: GrowingProduce

Photos by Markus Spiske

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