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Berry big business: Always Fresh Farms

Always Fresh Farms, LLC BB #:165648 is a grower, marketer, and shipper of blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and raspberries from the United States, Latin America, and Canada.

The Winter Haven, FL-based company sources from across North America, from New Jersey to British Columbia, with further volumes coming in from Mexico and Guatemala.

Like the other growers featured in this series, its top varieties are from UC Davis and University of Florida breeders, but the company has also developed its own proprietary blackberries and raspberries, which are set to be produced in Mexico.

Always Fresh announced a partnership with Giddings Fruit in August 2019 aimed at securing a year-round supply of berries and cherries from Mexico and South America for the North American market.

In common with many in the sector, Always Fresh’s vice president of sales, Jack Cain, identifies labor as one of the biggest demands facing growers, although he says increasing production costs can also make it difficult to keep farms profitable.

Unlike some of its contemporaries, Always Fresh is already making use of robotic harvesters for blueberries, although Cain stresses that such solutions—to date at least—have their limitations.

Strawberries are not only delicate, he stresses, but there are many factors that determine suitability for picking. The same is true for blackberries, he says.

“Blueberries are a little bit more durable, but what you sacrifice in labor costs you give up in fruit that has to be graded out or thrown away or bruised in the process.

As a grower-shipper, we would definitely entertain new technology,” he says, but he doesn’t foresee anything of a revolutionary nature occurring in the next five years.

Cain does concede labor is a significant issue and something must be done, as there’s “more and more pressure due to labor costs.”

Looking ahead, he predicts consumption will continue to climb provided growers can meet retailer demands for better shelf life, improved taste, and more biodegradable packaging.

“I think the commodity is growing year over year as people become more health conscious and as we improve varieties, quality, and eating profile,” Cain says, but growers will need to make headway in smoothing out seasonal highs and lows to provide berries all year.

Demand and supply seem to be increasing,” he adds. “Of course, there are going to be highs and lows, but I don’t see the berry category declining at all—I see it continuing to grow.”

This is a multi-part feature adapted from an article in the May/June 2020 issue of Produce Blueprints.