Driscoll’s berry improvement never ends
Even for Driscoll’s, raspberries and blackberries are an ongoing work in progress.
On June 1, Brie Smith, vice president of product leadership for Driscoll’s of the Americas, based in Watsonville, CA, candidly discusses the highly respected Driscoll’s berry brand beyond its largest volume item, strawberries, and the hugely popular Driscoll’s blueberries.
Raspberries and blackberries are also very substantial Driscoll’s offerings. Driscoll’s raspberries and blackberries are both tops nationally in category market share. Even as best-ever berries receive promotional boosts, the firm always plans for better.
Driscoll’s- brand raspberries and blackberries all are bred in the firm’s own genetics program. It is that breeding that drives constant improvements in flavor, shelf life and other attributes of this fruit. Their varieties are exclusive to their network of independent growers.
A new Mya raspberry release is so much better that the previous top raspberry and is part of Driscoll’s core yellow branded packaging. Often, when berries don’t meet a great flavor experience, the berries are packed in a secondary Driscoll’s label. “This is a true indication of our progress,” Smith notes. The new “super star” raspberry variety is one of five new types that all are “working pretty well.”
Mya “is really exceptional. It has unheard-of fruit size, flavor, and condition. It is a major standout” and the personal favorite of Smith and her three kids.
Farm labor scarcity, partly due to California labor law, has slowed new California production.
In 2019, Driscoll’s was the first berry company to create a premium flavor segment, “Sweetest Batch” label for its strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries. About 1% or 2% of its berries qualify for Sweetest Batch. For raspberries, Sweetest Batch draws consumers who may have been lost from the category. Sweetest Batch pricing enables the planting of super-high flavor berries.
While blackberries have long been beautiful, their taste historically could be bitter, like a lemon, Smith remarks. Sweetest Batch blackberries give consumers an extra assurance of good flavor. There is an initial purchase and a high likelihood of another sale.
Driscoll’s is not the only company to have “some really good” blackberry varieties. But the firm plans to move toward making blackberries a “coveted delicacy,” like cherries are today, she adds.
In Mexico, where Driscoll’s works with hundreds of independent growers, it has found a new strategy to boost quality. The focus traditionally was to grow fruit that would reach the U.S. East Coast in good condition. But to better-attain its own objectives and motivate growers, Driscoll’s launched a financial incentive for growers producing berries with the highest brix, while continuing condition specifications. This proved to be the perfect boost for Driscoll’s Elvira blackberry variety, giving a “second wind” through the new quality rewards system.
The broad raspberry category has benefited in large part through 52-week availability. With that, Driscoll’s has worked to have consistent supplies on a 52-week basis. To do that, “you must have something that people enjoy.” Bolstering its strong position, Driscoll’s is embracing new highly flavorful varieties which produce “big opportunities for a super-delicious, healthy fruit.”
Driscoll’s patented their first commercial raspberry variety "Sweetbriar" in 1977. Today raspberries are produced in California and Mexico, including Baja. The firm is starting production in Canada to serve the Canadian market. This involves British Columbia and still-being-determined growing locations in the east.
For the most part raspberry demand always exceeded supply. An exception struck in 2014-15 when sudden new volume poured into the market and crushed pricing. California saw a mass exodus of raspberry production, as growers headed to plant in Mexico, which has enjoyed “a big boom since.” In addition to its Mexico production, Driscoll’s stuck to it in California and is enjoying “growth.” Smith credits competitor Well-Pict for also continuing to thrive in California.
She adds that the 2022-23 raspberry season in Mexico “appears pretty difficult. It was not our best season, either, but there appears to be a little shake-up in Mexico. The volume grew very fast in Mexico, and now there’s another wobble in Mexico, which is working in our favor. We have commercial-scale raspberries in Mexico and our growers and customers are receptive to our overall quality.”
Yellow and Rosé raspberries
Yellow raspberries were Smith’s favorite as she grew up in the Watsonville area. Driscoll’s has long worked to develop a commercial yellow raspberry. “Yellow raspberries are sweeter than their counterparts, but they tend to have a weaker shelf life.” Driscoll’s is always working on new flavor innovations. Alongside their Driscoll’s Rosé Strawberries-brand introduced in 2019, consumers may find branded sweet jewels of a similar color: Driscoll’s Rosé Raspberries.