Berries have shown remarkable growth in the past decade — much more than most other produce commodities.
USDA statistics show that blueberry retail per capita availability rose 97% from 2011 to 2021, with raspberries up 192% and strawberries up 45% in that time.
Industry experts polled in the LinkedIn Fresh Produce Industry Discussion Group offered several reasons why berry sales have been so strong.
“What can't berries do?” said Mike Mauti, managing partner with Canada-based Execulytics Consulting. “They're tasty, easy to eat, extremely versatile and kids love them.”
Berries are no overnight success, he said.
“Other than some varietal improvements and seasonality enhancements, they've been this way for decades, centuries even,” Mauti said.
The health halo of berries also has reinforced the fruit’s favor with consumers, he said.
“It's really about the concept of 'superfood,'” Mauti said. “Ever since the idea was hatched, berries of all kinds have played both starring and supporting roles in the superfood era.”
With all its attributes, berries have earned top-shelf status among consumers; “Who’s not eating berries?” he said.
Retailers love the ring that berries bring to the department.
“Nothing builds a basket in produce better than berries,” said Daniel Bell, director of produce for California-based Grocery Outlet.
Armand Lobato, retail veteran and current foodservice promotion director for the Idaho Potato Commission, said berry quality continues to improve, with a range of colorful berries to attract consumer attention.
“Availability especially continues to dramatically expand; very few if any gaps [are] left anymore,” he said.
Berries make a great ad lead item, and packaging makes it easy for merchandising the fruit, Lobato said.
Marketing of berries is robust, he said, and pricing is competitive for conventional and organic fruit.
“Berries are especially easy to eat out of hand, a perfect kid snack, popular to mix into cereal, yogurt or blended into shakes,” Lobato said. “Perception of a healthy choice is very strong with berries, and some having the title as a superfood doesn’t hurt either."
Those health benefits of berries are important to consumers, said John Sauve, a consultant with Food and Wellness Group. Sauve worked on marketing Maine Wild Blueberries in the late 1990s, helping to create what he called a “breakthrough” antioxidant message.
“There is no doubt from my biased point of view that the consumer awareness and demand for the colorful berry category is driven more so than any other produce category by a steady flow of health attribute and benefit research communicated consistently and professionally by the focused marketing messages from all the berry players out there,” he said.