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Sunny Valley’s ‘Duke’ blueberries expected to be as big, plump, sweet and juicy as ever this season

“An accurate assessment of New Jersey’s blueberry crop is that it’s on track for a great season,” Bob Von Rohr, director of customer relations for Sunny Valley International, headquartered in Glassboro, NJ, told The Produce News on May 26. “The weather has been favorable for producing an excellent and full crop. Timing of movements on the East Coast appears to be about five to seven days later than last season, which had a normal start.”

Von Rohr also noted that early indications are that growers will have a good supply of labor for harvesting this season.

Based on the bloom time, Sunny Valley’s experience indicates that the company’s growers will start harvesting between June 18 and 20, which reflects the later start time than last season.

“The peak harvest period for our New Jersey blues will be around June 25 through the later part of July, which is perfect timing for summertime promotional opportunities,” Von Rohr added. “We will have great promotable volumes for the July 4 holiday. The favorable winter weather gave the plants a good dormancy period, and we were spared spring frosts or hail storms in the spring. It’s a nice solid full crop of sound, high-quality Jersey blues.”

Sunny Valley’s “Jersey Fruit” growing partners are particularly proud of their Highbush varieties: Duke and Bluecrop. Both are well known and sought out due to the large size, nice bloom finish and outstanding flavor. Von Rohr noted, “Customers should be thinking big — as in big blueberries.”

All of the company’s fresh New Jersey blueberries are hand-picked to ensure only the best quality is being harvested. The Duke blueberry is the primary variety grown in New Jersey for early season harvest, while the Bluecrop variety runs in mid-season to the end of the harvest. These varieties are the same for both conventional and organic production.

Von Rohr added that although the company expects a plentiful crop for July 4, which has always been a natural fit with blueberries, there are also great opportunities available for later promotions.

The company’s one-pint, 12-pack box “Jersey Fruit” label will continue to be its standard pack. Von Rohr said that customers are demanding more 18-ounce clamshells and two-pound packs to help drive additional sales at the register.

All of Sunny Valley’s blueberry packs will carry the “Jersey Fruit” label with the “dancing blueberry” characters in a high-graphic box.

Sunny Valley has partnered with its “Jersey Fruit” blueberry growers in establishing food safety as its first priority.

“Our growers are audited annually by a third-party independent food-safety agency that certifies our growers at the highest level,” explained Von Rohr. “Each of our growers participates in an Integrated Pest Management program, which emphasizes the growth of a healthy crop with the least possible disruption to agro-ecosystems and encourages natural pest control mechanisms. All our blueberry clamshell labels have a unique GTIN/UPC, [Global Trade Item Number/Universal Product Code] along with a 2D code to provide traceback to each grower, pack date, ranch, lot and field. We are presently working toward PTI [Produce Traceability Initiative] case level compliance.”

Sunny Valley also works with the largest organic blueberry producer in New Jersey, Big Buck Farms in Hammonton. Its organic blueberries carry the “Little Buck Organics” label. Organic packaging options are half-pint and full-pint packs.

“This year is shaping up to be a record year for Big Buck Farms organic blues,” said Von Rohr. “Our ‘Little Buck’ organic blueberries are certified by the NOFA, NJ [Northeast Organic Farming Association of New Jersey].”

Production from Big Buck Farms has increased over the years due to new plantings of the highly desirable Duke and Bluecrop  varieties.

“Organic blueberries will be available from mid-June to mid-August,” Von Rohr pointed out. “Big Buck Farms is a cutting edge facility that uses all of the latest equipment and sophisticated packing techniques. Its product is certified organic, certified kosher and it holds all the required food-safety certifications.”

He added that overall, everything looks very promising for an excellent New Jersey blueberry season.

“With the demand for blueberries higher than ever and continually increasing due to the widespread media coverage of the health benefits, we’re happy to be bringing this high-quality crop to our customers and to consumers,” said Von Rohr.