Nothing literally beats the pop of fresh berries, especially in summer. Berries are the highlight of the summer season. Just imagine the pop of fresh juicy blueberry, the indulgence of a juicy ripe strawberry, or a sweet-tart harmonious flavour of ripe blackberry. Craving it already, aren’t you?
You must have visited the nearby market to buy berries for making tarts, juices, shakes, healthy breakfast bowls, or just eat them as it is. And are you not stunned by their prices? They actually cost a small fortune for just a little amount.
But while taking a good morning jog, you must have seen a lot of wild berries growing on the roadsides and available free of cost. Ana a lot of questions start popping up in your heads.
Then why are these tiny boxes of berries that we buy from supermarkets or grocery stores so damn expensive? What is the difference between the berries we see on the roadside and the supermarket ones? Can we not have wild berries instead? Are berries worth the price? Let’s explore all of them one by one.
Berries like strawberry, blackberry, blueberry, raspberry are a pain to pick, keep fresh and fragile to transport. There are breeding programs developed to dampen these problems but there is only so much they can do. Here are 4 major reasons for berries being expensive.
As berries are small compared to other fruits and fragile as well, you cannot run a machine to pick them. They require to be handpicked by hundreds of people out in farms, working vigorously in harsh sunlight all within a short period of a few weeks.
According to the berry, the bush size differs. They can be very low on the ground or as tall as an adult as well. For example, strawberry bushes don’t grow more than a couple of feet, in tightly packed rows. You cannot sit down nor stand up and pick them. You have to crouch over to pick them for hours during the weeks at a time.
Blueberries, on the other hand, grow in tall bushes which means you have to stand all day long looking for each berry. See if the berry is ripe enough while keeping in consideration not to touch them too much in order to avoid brushing off fine white dust they have (just like plums).
Blackberries and raspberries are grown on thorny vines, which means hand-picking them is even slower.
Nowadays, there are many berry farms giving access to all the people for a fun berry picking session. It’s fun work if you are just visiting for the activity but quite tedious and back-breaking if that is your income source.
The majority of the hand pickers are immigrants who work for long hours for 6 days a week. This is the same for all the crops that require handpicking across the world.
The genetic makeup of berries makes them fragile as they cannot develop thick outer skin like melons or apples. Hence, despite being bred for durability and size, berries are fragile little fruits.
As they are fragile, they get damaged and crushed really easily. This also means that their shelf life is fairly short as well, not more than a week or so. Strawberries are the absolute worst when it comes to shelf life. These beauties go from fresh and bright red to mouldy, blue-white in merely 2-3 days and sometimes even overnight when kept at room temperature.
Raspberries are very soft and break apart easily. What’s worse is they grow mould on the inside of their little caps, hence you must always check them before washing.
Berries also require refrigeration at all times. If you keep them at room temperature, they will spoil overnight. They require a well ventilated plastic container to rest in, as moisture might accumulate otherwise and mould will grow even faster.
All of these factors make berry supply a really intense, complex and stressful supply chain. The moment berries are, they need to be packed, sealed and stored in coolers, shipped in coolers and then brought to supermarkets and again stored in open fridges or coolers.
To top it off, they remain good for about a week only after picking, which means express transport leading to premium costs.
The berries that we buy from the market or supermarket are bred to be larger and have a slightly thicker outer skin in order to store them easily. Even after all the work in breeding programs, berries don’t last that long. And as they are bred for size and appearance, their flavour takes the blow. Growing berries right from the seeds aren’t cheap, as the seeds required to be bought are expensive.
The berries growing on the side of the roads are smaller and will go bad in just a few hours. But they have immense flavour. If you live near such bushes, consider yourselves lucky as not everyone has access to it. We know this because we have them in the hilly regions of our native place but surely miss them while living in this urban settlement.
If you go berry picking, surely freeze some for later
If luckily you live in such an area, do yourself a favour and pick as many berries as you can when the season hits and store them in your freezer. Trust us, they taste so much better than the big ones from the stores. And if you freeze them for later, you can use them during the no berry season – winter as well.
Imagine raspberry puree made from fresh, luscious raspberries you yourselves picked with your own two hands. It will taste ten times better than the one made with the store-bought ones. But handpicking the berries requires a little knowledge as to know which berry is ready to be picked and how to pick them without disrupting and damaging the bushes. There are plenty of online guides available to do this, so you won’t be on your own figuring out how to take that cranberry out of the bush.
Another vital aspect about berries after shelf life is the fact that they don’t ripen after they are picked. Fruits like bananas can be picked when they are unripe and green, shipped and then treated with ethylene to ripen on the shelf. If you are wondering what ethylene is, it’s a natural gas all fruits and vegetables produce to speed up the ripening process. They produce more ethylene on spoiling, which is why bananas turn brown quickly after ripening.
So, berries have to be picked when they are perfectly ripe and then shipped over in a fast, accurate and exhaustive manner. This along with the low shelf life adds to the fragility of the berries making them hard to produce, pick, transport and sell and hence expensive.
Then why not have the roadside berries instead of having these expensive ones?
We know at this point you would have properly understood why these berries are so expensive and would have questioned. Why can’t we just have the roadside growing berries instead? Can we? or can we not?
You may have a few bushes growing near your house, or a nice patch of woodland that has berry shrubs on the outskirts.
Well, these are the original berries or wild forest berries. It is actually where the berries came from in the first place. They grow around trees or near the base of the trees. They often require regions with solid, freezing winters and hot summers to grow. This means you can find them in late summer if you go on hikes.
But this also means that they are in their original form, small yet flavourful. The con of wild berries is their size. They are actually really small compared to the ones from the supermarket. Its size is about a size bigger than the peppercorn. While the pro is that these wild berries taste amazing. They are flavourful and much better than the store-bought ones in terms of taste. As they are allowed to run their course and develop sugar naturally, their flavour gets boosted.
The fact that wild berries can be infested with pests and diseases as well makes them a little unreliable. And the question arises why do we need breeding program berries? Why not transplant the wild berries?
The berries from the breeding program are developed to combat all the issues of pests and diseases, size and fragility. But this makes them take a step back when it comes to flavour. They have thicker skin and larger size than the wild berries making them more durable and profitable but they often taste bland or under-ripe as well. If you miss having the old school tomatoes, you might get what we are saying.
Despite all this, breeding program berries are much more profitable than the wild ones. They are a reliable, consistent crop with fairly large fruit that doesn’t take as much time to pick as the wild ones. It makes more sense to grow berries in breeding programs on the economic, mass production front.
So, of course, the wild berries are much more delicious, flavourful than the store-bought ones. But due to the required climate, these berries don’t grow everywhere. So, if you don’t have a berry bush near you, you will have to accept the reality and buy the supermarket ones as they have a significant advantage to the farmers and retailers.
So now we hope you understand why these fragile little precious fruits are so expensive. But are they really worth the money? Well nothing can compare to the flavour and health benefits they impart so yes they are indeed worth it. As they require a lot of care right from the harvesting to the sale, they are quite expensive. But keep in mind their flavours, culinary usage and health and nutrition benefits like
● Improving brain, oral and skin health,
● Nutrition-rich, anti-inflammatory,
● Useful to fight cancer and cholesterol.
● Packed with Vitamin C
One can definitely say that berries are worth it!