The Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine's 2017 initiative to get more public school systems to offer wild blueberries to their students is quickly — and literally — gaining new ground.
In the last month, public school systems in Arkansas, Florida, Michigan, Minnesota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia and Washington have begun buying Maine wild blueberries. According to recent USDA Agricultural Marketing Service sales data, more Maine wild blueberries were sold to schools during the month of April 2017 than for the entire 2016 school year.
More than 1.2 million pounds of Maine wild blueberries were sold in April, almost tripling the 435,000 pounds sold in April 2016 and exceeding the total volume sold in 2016 of 1.188 million pounds.
The boost in sales for the 2017-2018 school year is due to several factors, including a robust sales and marketing effort targeting state food service directors, which is partially funded through a $50,000 grant from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry. Another factor is the favorable new USDA yield data, which demonstrates that one pound of frozen Maine wild blueberries provides 25% more servings than the same weight of frozen cultivated blueberries. Finally, strong performance of a new, smaller packaging option, which includes convenient 3-pound bags. In the coming school year, Maine Wild Blueberries can be found in public school systems in 19 states, compared to 13 states this year.
"In the face of the current industry challenges of oversupply and low prices, we knew that we had to act aggressively to better position frozen Maine Wild Blueberries," said Nancy McBrady, executive director of The Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine. "The USDA's School Meal Program, which serves breakfast, lunch, snacks, and suppers to millions of children every day, presented a clear opportunity. The response to our new program has been amazing, and I think we're just starting to scratch the surface of how successful this program can be."
Ronald Adams, former food service director for the Portland Public Schools, praised the new initiative. "School foodservice directors are charged with providing the highest value nutrition for the lowest cost," said Adams. "The lower price per serving and the new online resource for recipes, means that school cafeterias can now incorporate a premium superfruit into their menus with ease."