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In line with raw food and a healthy lifestyle in general, berries have been quick to jump on the bandwagon. The consumption of blueberries in particular increases significantly, but other berries grow in popularity as well.
A little-known berry is the honey berry. The honey berry, also called blue honeysuckle, is originally from Asia. The fruits are very healthy and look a lot like blueberries. The bittersweet berry is already very appreciated abroad, and now increasingly finds its way to domestic consumers. Some varieties can be eaten immediately. Others are only suitable for processing because they are too bitter. The cooperative auction BelOrta introduced the Japanese honey berry this season, under the name haskap. In Canada and the United States, the berry is quite popular, and a number of Belgian growers have started working with Canadian honey berry plants, the first volumes becoming available this year. “It’s still a bit of a niche product for us,” says Mieke Thoelen of BelOrta. “We expect to receive a limited volume, which won’t even come under auction. Next year though, we expect to offer more honey berries, considering production is on the rise.”
Thoelen notes that the whole range of small fruit is picking up steam, the blueberries in particular. “Globally, consumption increases, there’s no doubt about that. Consumers are starting to really appreciate blueberries. It is not only a tasty, but also very much a convenient product. In addition, the berry is riding the current superfood wave, making it extra popular.” This year’s berry season is underway, and according to Thoelen the large volumes are starting to arrive. Producers are locating the products through dealers in supermarkets at home and abroad. “We see a growing demand, especially from Scandinavia, where soft fruit is quite popular. Strawberry export to Scandinavia for example, is really taking off.”
The future of the soft fruit is therefore positive, though there are still challenges. One poignant example being quality, which remains an issue as it may discourage consumers from future purchases, as well as crop diversification to provide the market with soft fruit for as long as possible. “Many consumers still consider soft fruit a luxury product. By intensifying promotion and increasing availability we may be able to change this.”
The Aronia, also known as chokeberry, is taking off globally. The Aronia is genetically related to the Cranberry, but is said to contain five to ten times as many antioxidants. The berry is not widely grown, but production is increasing. In Switzerland in 2009, Aronia Schweiz was set up in the belief that the berry would play an important role in a market increasingly concerned with conscious and healthy diet. The 43 members now have a combined acreage of 40 hectares. In 2013, IG Aronia Schweiz distributed about 28 tons of berries on the market. The berries are sold fresh (dishes of 250 grams), dried (cool and sealed) or as a juice. Fresh Aronia berries are commonly used for jam, ice cream or cake. With 220 hectares, the German state of Saxony may consider itself a true berry region. The Aronia berries grow on 96 hectares, acreage having thus increased considerably. For 2013, a growth of 34 hectares was recorded.
In the Netherlands, the Aronia is grown on a small scale, predominantly in the north of the country. The berries are marketed under the Frisian Waldpyk label: the brand for products and services from the region. The berry is grown here in an ecological way. Grower De Hagen is one of the producers of the Waldpyk Aronia berry. Jenny Kuiper, together with her brother Willem, is running the company her father started 39 years ago. She agrees that there is an increasing demand for the berry. “We note that health awareness increases, but we also get lots of people who want their children to show that fruit does not grow in the supermarket.”