Agricultural Development Grant Awarded to The Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine

February 1, 2017

The $50,000 Grant Will Stimulate Pull-Through for Several Years of Larger-Than-Usual Wild Blueberry Harvests by Focusing on Increased Public School Consumption

PORTLAND, MAINE — January 12, 2017 Thirty million lunches and nearly fifteen million breakfasts are served in US public schools each day, but despite their many attributes and years of banner harvests, school sales of frozen Maine Wild Blueberries have been flat.  In 2015, just over 500,000 pounds of frozen Wild Blueberries were purchased by USDA as school commodity food nationwide, as compared to 114 million pounds of frozen fruit, frozen vegetables, and frozen orange juice served nationwide in 2012.  USDA commodity foods are unprocessed or partially processed agricultural commodities, purchased by USDA and then made available for use in schools. Thanks to a $50,000 grant announced yesterday by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, Maine’s state fruit will be getting increased national marketing attention, with a pointed focus on school foodservice programs.

“We’re delighted to receive word of this development grant from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry,” said Nancy McBrady, Executive Director of the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine. “These funds will allow our industry to launch a significant marketing effort that promotes Wild Blueberries as an ideal school food. We expect the results to deliver a measurable increase in sales and the creation of a stable market channel for the 510 Wild Blueberry growers and processors here in Maine.”  The Wild Blueberry School Foodservice Program will be kicked off in tandem with USDA’s National School Breakfast Week in March 2017.

News of the grant arrives just as a recent USDA school nutrition guide reveals that one pound of Wild Blueberries provides 25% more servings than the same weight of cultivated blueberries. This means that a 30-pound case of frozen Wild Blueberries provides 225 half-cup servings as opposed to 180 half-cup servings from a 30-pound case of frozen cultivated blueberries.   McBrady noted that this new yield data is expected to be favorably received by school nutrition directors who must provide the highest value nutrition for the lowest cost.  With the grant, the new program can deliver this powerful yield message more effectively.

In 2016, the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine began studying the barriers and opportunities for increasing sales in the U.S. public foodservice sector (K-12).   Among its findings:

  • On a typical school day in America, more than 30 million children sit down to meals prepared and served through USDA’s National School Lunch Program and nearly 15 million children receive breakfast via USDA’s School Breakfast Program.
  • Public schools recorded a 48% increase in fruit purchases from 2000-2010. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has since mandated doubling the amount of fruit served in every public-school breakfast.
  • The USDA requires that K-5 students be offered ¾ cup and secondary students be offered a full cup of fruit and vegetables per day.
  • Breakfast is an increasingly popular meal served at public schools. Smoothies and yogurt parfaits are two examples of how Wild Blueberries can easily be served to kids at breakfast.

“Our research reveals that public schools represent an enormous opportunity for further sales of Wild Blueberries,” said McBrady. “We know that we need to make our case to schools and develop Wild Blueberry recipes that meet USDA fruit serving requirements. This grant will allow that work to happen.”  Moreover, with an increased supply of Wild Blueberries (2014-2016 saw crops of 100+ million pounds annually), the grant is well timed.  McBrady explained: “Given that we have high supply, we need to aggressively expand into new and existing markets.  Fortunately, with the increased focus on serving more fruits and vegetables in public schools, Wild Blueberries – with their delicious taste, high nutritional value, and kid-friendly appeal – are poised to be a good news story in the foodservice world.”

About the Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine

The Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine was established to promote the ongoing prosperity of the Maine Wild Blueberry industry.  It works on behalf of Maine’s 500+ growers and processers of Wild Blueberries in the areas of research and education, promotion, and policy. For more information visit wildblueberries.com.

Media Contact:

Nancy McBrady, Executive Director
Wild Blueberry Commission of Maine
207-581-1475
nancy.mcbrady@maine.edu