CORNER BROOK Pure Labrador is about to lose a little bit of its namesake.
Not to suggest any impurities by any means, but Stelman Flynn has had to purchase berries from China in order to save his company from closing following what he called a total failure of the partridgeberry crop in the province.
Normally, the Forteau man said his company would solicit local berry pickers in the amount of 10,000 to 15,000 pounds of partridgeberries to make preserves. Typically, he said if there were any local shortages, he would expand his search to the berry picking pastures of the Bonavista Peninsula.
This year, he struck out in all places. While he has had challenges meeting his quotas in previous years, he said it is the first time in his company’s decade in business he has seen a total crop failure.
After researching the berry markets — when he discovered a worldwide shortage this year — he decided China was the destination to order berries. He said, due to the shortage, his order was costly and he was required to buy in much larger bulk than required. However, he said it was necessary, especially because he spends approximately $100,000 in marketing.
“You don’t want to miss any one year because, once you are out of the marketplace, the consumer quickly forgets your face,” he said. “It was either close the plant down or bring it in from China.”
Flynn said he has no concerns about the quality of berries he will receive in the next few weeks from China.
“A lot of our product (groceries and merchandise) today comes in from China,” he said.
“I would prefer to have the Newfoundland and Labrador product to work with, just because of the pride I have in the province and country I live in, but it all comes down to keeping the momentum we have going.”
However, the businessman would prefer avoiding a repeat of this scenario in the future.
He said he is working with local zonal boards to establish a committee to examine how to best get local berries from the barrens — including harvesting costs or the possibilities of mechanical harvesting.
“There are challenges ahead and we plan to do some pilot projects throughout the coming year to hopefully overcome these challenges,” he said.
Flynn said Pure Labrador has a large international market, which feasibly could require 1.5 million to two million pounds of partridgeberries in 2011 — more berries than has ever been produced annually in the province.
“If we had the right processing place, I still think it would be a challenge,” he said. “... (the province in total) has been close to doing that in the past and there really hasn’t been any great organization put into that.”
Flynn said the partridgeberry has the highest anti-oxidants of any berry.
“There is a great opportunity in the berries that this province actually produces,” he said.
“It has always been a challenge of finding markets and so on for it.
“I’ve done a lot of work on this myself, and the zonal board here. I think over the next few years we are going to have significant breakthroughs with marketing — not only partridgeberries, but bakeapple and blueberries.”