U.S.: Shanley Farms to roll out fresh Goji berry high-end retail program
Used in Chinese medicine for millennia and now making its mark in Western health food circles for its nutritional benefits, the Goji berry is still mostly sold as an imported dried product in the USA.
However, for the last couple of years California-based Shanley Farms has been cultivating the fruit to test its reception as a fresh berry in the marketplace.
"We like to fit little consumer niches where folks might want to experiment," company owner Jim Shanley tells Fresh Fruit Portal.
"We had 400 plants at the nursery and planted them on a half-acre, and sold them in a trial to Whole Foods [Market]. Consumers seemed excited by the fruit as they'd never been able to have it before.
"So I took out an old kiwifruit orchard that needed to be renewed and planted 5,000 bushes on 10 acres. This will be their first season," he says, adding the fruit is certified organic.
Goji berries have two seasons, in spring and the fall, and Shanley expects the latter to achieve higher yields this year. The company will be selling to Whole Foods Market as well as other high-end retailers around the country.
"This is yet another of our niche products that attempts to make retailers cooler than anyone else around in five years' time," he says, noting other key items in Shanley Farms' portfolio such as finger limes, citron caviar and Morro Bay avocados.
But the big questions from any consumer will be what does the fresh Goji berry taste like, and how do you eat it?
"The fresh product I would describe as pleasant and with a mid-palate note that I would say is tangy. Fresh, the Goji berries accentuate the aftertaste you would know with the dried fruit," he says.
"My wife is less enthusiastic, but I find it pleasant and I get the idea it's for a particular taste. When I get that little bit of bitterness, that alkaline, I know that it's good for me and that's why I'm eating it."
The berry is loaded with Vitamin C and A, has high levels of beta-carotene which is good for skin health, and also has high amounts of zeaxanthin, an antioxidant known for its benefits in eye care.
In addition, the fruit has reportedly been shown to benefit blood-sugar levels and help detoxify the liver, according to nutrition website Dr. Axe.
"I think consumers will respond well to it - it's a berry, it's red so I think that will attract people," he says, adding it will have to sell for a high price to justify the high picking costs due to its delicate nature, but Shanley Farms is working on field techniques to make orchards more efficient.
On the clamshell marketing Shanley Farms highlights the fruit is rich in antioxidants, encouraging people to add the fruit to salads and smoothies.
And it is the last product that may well be the biggest growth opportunity after testing the waters with the fresh berries.
"Our ultimate goal is to produce a fresh Goji berry purée to market to smoothie bars. If they have the option, why wouldn't people choose to add Goji berries to their blueberries, pomegranates, açaí and other superfruits in a smoothie?"