What's happening in the blueberry FoodTech World

Sunday, February 2, 2014

What's With Blueberry Powder?

In a recent visit to Hong Kong, I saw an entire aisle of a pharmacy stocked with "blueberry powders."  All Chinese made, these products had images of blueberries, eyes, beautiful ladies and svelte modern executive gentlemen.  What is this stuff?
First of all, these powders are actually "bilberry powders."  They are made from the species of vaccinium called myrtillus.  This is the European wild mountain blueberry that grows naturally in the forests of Eastern Europe and Scandinavia.  Most bilberry comes from countries like Kosovo, Serbia, Bosnia and Ukraine.  Mountain villagers spend summer nights collecting these bilberries on the high slopes and dense forests.  They are brought to collection sites for rendezvous in the morning and taken to freezers, normally in the lowlands at plants which also process other mountain produces such as wild mushrooms and wild mountain herbs.  At this stage the bilberries are in field condition and include leaves and stems -- but since this is OK as the product is not for immediate consumption.  European packing companies, mainly from Scandinavia send buyers to the regions in during the harvest and scoop up the "case frozen" bilberries normally at a market price that is standard all over the region.  The price is set by the buyers, and seems decently high compared to world blueberry prices for highbush and lowbush blueberries.  Now the journey takes the bilberries to Scandinavia where a flourishing bilberry business has exited for decades if not longer.  The Baklan blueberries are normally reprocessed, cleaned and sorted and repacked and utilized in local products.  Although some do remain in Europe -- almost all are shipped to China for anthocyanin (pigment) extraction. The bilberry is the gold standard of anthocyanin, as the bilberry has blue color inside and can be processed into 35 percent of more anthocyanin.  Almost all extraction factories are located in China and the customer base is mainly in China, Japan, South Korea and Southeast Asia.  The bilberry extractions are made into high-value powders that end up in capsules that I saw in Hong Kong.  
Now you probably have a few questions:
>Question: Why can't we produce bilberries in the USA.  They cannot be cultivated and only grow in the wild.  
>Question: Why can't North American blueberries go to extraction.  Answer: well they can, but the pharmaceutical and nutraceutical companies normally want the higher yielding bilberries.  There are some concentrated extracts of highbush blueberries (vaccinium corymbosum) that are now marketed.  One company is called Powder Pure in Washington and can be located on our supplier list.  We have dozens of pure blueberry powder producers in North America and this is a very interesting and developing business for US producers.  After all it takes 12 lbs or kg of blueberry to make one kg of blueberry powder!  That uses a lot of blueberry.
Question: Are these powders beneficial.  I read a study a few years ago that analyzed Asian "blueberry powders."  The conclusion was that there was a wide variety of potency in the powder.  I note that today there are various certifications on the packages that proclaim the quality characteristics.
Is blueberry powder a potential marketable product in North America.  Visit the Natural Products Expo and that question will be answered!  

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