Blueberry industry refocuses marketing

Posted July 15, 2009, at 8:16 p.m.

JONESBORO, Maine — Maine’s wild blueberry farmers can grow berries: 90 million pounds last year, a bumper crop.

But while the market was flooded with native and imported cultivated berries and the prices paid for all berries continued to drop, major marketing campaigns for wild blueberries focused on their health properties and targeted the ingredient industry.

“We took the wild blueberry from something in a muffin to a health icon,” John Sauve of the Swardlick Marketing Group said Wednesday.

But that is all going to change, Sauve told blueberry growers Wednesday who had gathered for their annual summer field day at Blueberry Hill research center.

For the first time ever, the wild blueberry industry is challenging the cultivated berry industry in the marketplace with a new logo, a new direction and a three-year marketing plan.

Sauve said by targeting the frozen fruit market, Maine’s producers could triple their market share.

Sauve estimated that the industry now sells 20 million to 30 million pounds to the frozen fruit sector, about a third of what Maine produces.

“We can do 100 million pounds there,” he forecast.

Advertisements for wild blueberries could soon read: “It’s 11 a.m. Do you know where your wild ones are?” and feature a picture of a supermarket’s frozen food case.

Sauve said that 76 percent of the marketplace believes frozen fruit is healthy, yet only 25 percent actually have it in their home freezers.

“This is a huge area for growth,” he said. “We will capture the wild premium, and for us, the place is in the frozen food case of 50,000 supermarkets across the country. We have never gone after the frozen market like we are about to.”

“Primarily,” he said, “we are in the ingredient business. Our product reaches consumers inside of stuff.”

He said the wild blueberry’s success has been built on its health properties, which include guarding against cell damage associated with cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer’s disease and the effects of aging.

Sauve unveiled a new logo Wednesday which focuses on the premium aspect of wild blueberries and signals the industry’s shift to tackle the cultivated blueberry industry head-on.

He said wild blueberries have always been marketed as better and different than cultivated, but the industry has never before used the word “premium” in its campaigns.

“This new brand identity will lift wild blueberries significantly above cultivated,” Sauve said. “This is a dramatic change for our business.”

Sauve said wild blueberries account for only 25 percent of the country’s blueberry market. The rest are cultivated. But cultivated berry prices have plummeted to pre-2006 levels and wild blueberry producers need to capitalize on their premium aspect and garner a “significantly higher price.”

He also said the industry will “play the origin game much harder. People today want to know where their food comes from.” He said the allure and beauty of Maine and its connection with healthy food can be “a real plus.”

“We are going to build the demand for this superfruit, this premium berry,” he said.

bdnpittsfield@myfairpoint.net

255-0618

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