Very Fresh, BerryQuick

Naturipe introduces single-serve blueberry snack

When Naturipe was developing its latest product offering, the company had one question it was trying to answer: “How can we enhance the snacking options that are out there?” said Robert Verloop, executive vice president for marketing at Naturipe Farms.

Innovation has been slow coming to blueberries. Growers and packers have typically used size to differentiate products, “and that’s not innovation,” Verloop said. So Naturipe looked at some of the best practices in the snacking industry and tried to apply those to a blueberry product.

“We didn’t think of ourselves as a blueberry grower, we thought of ourselves as a snack item, a convenience item,” he said.

The result was BerryQuick, a single-serving of blueberries in a fun and attractive package.

“We see this item as a breakthrough for the blueberry industry,” Verloop said.

The product was a finalist for the Best New Fruit Product at the United Fresh Show, May 2-5 in New Orleans. While the product was not selected as the winner by attendees at the show, it was recognized as an innovative product during the Global Conference on Technology and Innovation on May 6, and it was a popular product on the trade show floor.

The design of the packaging is flexible and Naturipe will be able to adapt with size options for different markets. At launch, the product will be available at retail with three single-serve packages, but the company hopes to launch into vending machines and foodservice, especially the school cafeteria.

Currently, only 2 percent of blueberries are used in foodservice, but more than 50 percent of dollars are spent on food outside the home. And with blueberry acreage increasing in the United States, Naturipe is looking for new markets to pick up some of that supply.

The company took a systems approach to the packaging, Verloop said, so the design and product work together to create a favorable interaction with consumers. The BerryQuick package is larger than most blueberry containers, especially for a single serving, but in the context of increasing consumption it makes sense.

“The consumers have never complained about the amount of packaging in making healthy snacking convenient for kids,” he said.

What makes the BerryQuick product unique is the appearance. Blueberries have always been shipped with the “white bloom” intact. That’s the natural waxy barrier that protects the fruit and extends its shelf life. But that bloom also harbors molds and yeasts that break down the fruit and shorten shelf life. So Naturipe removes the bloom using a confidential and proprietary solution that is used by NASA for space flights and the Navy for use in subs. It is FDA compliant and the ingredients are Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS), Verloop said.

The postharvest application to remove the bloom gives the berries a bluer, better appearance, he said. The packaging allows customers to see the product and lets the natural attributes sell the product.

“First and foremost, we eat with our eyes,” Verloop said.

By removing the bloom and packaging the blueberries in a modified atmosphere packaging (MAP), Naturipe is able to get a three-week shelf life out the product. The oxygen transfer rate (OTR) film on the package maintains the correct humidity, replacing the need for the natural wax of the bloom.

“We worked with Mother Nature backwards to get this right,” he said.

It’s even more effective than Mother Nature. Verloop said he has seen packages kept in refrigeration for 90 days that are still edible.

The BerryQuick product is in production in California, but it will be done internationally, Verloop said. Naturipe Farms has blueberry fields in the Pacific Northwest, California, Texas, South, Southeast, Midwest and in Chile and Argentina.

The company has a strict quality control program that begins with proper handling in the fields. Only about 40 percent of blueberries harvested meet the size and quality requirements – they have to be uniform and not large enough to create a choking hazard – for the BerryQuick product, Verloop said, and those are sorted out through automated sorting and quality control inspections, as well as visual inspections from staff.

The blueberries sorted out for the BerryQuick packages are then sent to an SQF-certified clean room where the postharvest application that removes the bloom is applied.

The BerryQuick packaging and the postharvest application help to reduce shrink at retail, but the product will also be good for foodservice applications, Verloop said. In addition to reduced shrink, it also reduces labor in preparation and washing and it offers increased food safety because it is pre-washed and ready to eat.

Naturipe Farms is not content to let the snack food industry use all of the good marketing strategies. Verloop said blueberries, and the fresh produce industry as a whole, can use some of lessons from snack manufacturers to increase the consumption of fruits and vegetables at retail and foodservice. The benefits of produce are well known, but consumers need to be reminded of them in a snacking context.


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