Blueberries have become Georgia’s leading fruit crop. Their production, at 96 million pounds this year, outpaces peaches and has a $1 billion impact on the economy. But what to do with all those berries?
Alma farmer Shawn Davis, vice president of Southern Press and Packing, is doing his part to increase sales and develop new markets and products for the blueberry, from fruit to juice to hull.
It all started in 2008, when a softening market put the squeeze on Davis and his partners, Francis and Clara Spelman. They decided to squeeze back – the berries, that is – and developed a delicious and healthful new premium blueberry juice: Regenerate.
Their production has grown from 10,000 bottles of juice in 2010 to 200,000 by October 2014. “And that’s just the bottles that go to the grocery stores,” says Davis. “We can process about three million pounds of fruit into juice in our facility – in the bottles. School juice sales bring it up to five million pounds, and with fresh berries it goes up to seven million pounds.
“And next year we should double – if not quadruple – our sales.” His workforce has grown from three to eight full-time employees, 10 part-time and up to 25 during the summer seasons.
Davis says the University of Georgia SBDC in Brunswick has helped him from the beginning, when they applied for a One Georgia grant to help build their processing plant. The Center of Innovation at Tifton recommended he contact David Lewis, area director of the Brunswick SBDC office, for help with his application.
“We met David and started talking and working together,” says Davis.
Most of their early work together centered on developing Excel-based spreadsheet models to determine the best ways to make money producing their juice.
“We created several models that allowed Shawn to change variables like the cost of packaging, cost of berries, the yield of the juice that came out of different weights of berries and labor,” says Lewis. “The model helped them determine true costs they could use for pricing.”
“We are taking a raw commodity and adding value to it,” says Davis. “David built the format and shells for the proposal. We did the writing, but he helped us put it in the right format to explain our process – from farm and field to the plant and sales.
“Being able to tell this story on paper from the numbers perspective and the summary of what each person could bring to the table – our partners and employees – is important.”
After receiving the grant and opening their new plant, Davis and his partners continued to look for growth opportunities for their healthful product.
In 2012 they applied for a USDA Value-Added Producer Grant. “We had to work together to come up with the right numbers, and David put it in the right format so everyone could understand it.
From the executive summary all the way through to the business plan, every part of it – the numbers, dollars, costs and each category – David helped us obtain that $300,000 grant,” says Davis.
Davis continues to innovate, as is evidenced by his partnering with the University of Georgia’s Athletic Association to fund an internship in sports nutrition. “We paid for the internship to help support the nutrition education needs of the student-athletes. The athletic nutrition department is working hard at providing fresh, healthy foods, and that is right in line with our brands philosophy. We want to help support those efforts.
“We may also have opportunities to partner with UGA’s academic departments to further the specific values of our product, for example, to confirm the anti-inflammatory effects of blueberries.”
Southern Press and Packing, a certified Georgia Grown company, is doing its part to grow the state’s blueberry industry. And Davis says they will continue to go to the Georgia SBDC for help along the way.
“We’re talking with the SBA on funding as we continue to grow our business. I still talk to David monthly about what loans are out there. He helps me to stay up-to-date on what’s available to help us grow.”