A well-established berry processing business is expanding its operations into Chilliwack.
Prep work has already begun at the Kerr Avenue Food Processing Site, where Berryhill Foods will build a 35,000 square foot facility. Construction is expected to begin in October, with the first phase of the project completed by next June, said general manager Tom Phillips.
“The first year it’s a bit of a task to get this all put together,” he said.
The first stage will be a cold storage facility, where Berryhill will be able to store five million pounds of blueberries. The second phase will be to complete a processing plant, projected to be completed and operating for the 2017 berry season.
“We’re excited to get going out there,” Phillips said. The Chilliwack site will be in addition to their facility at Mt. Lehman in Abbotsford, where they run about 20 million pounds of berries. The majority of their crop is blueberries, he said, along with a smaller crop of raspberries.
“Our business is all freezing fruit,” he said, explaining the process behind ‘individually quick frozen’ berries.
“We take them from the field, wash and inspect them and then flash freeze them,” he said. “They get laser sorted and metal detected and packaged destined for market in Asia, the United States and Canada.”
Chilliwack and Abbotsford are in the heart of the largest blueberry growing region in North America, he said.
“It’s the weather conditions here, the mild climate,” Phillips explained. “It really works well for growing blueberries.”
But the quality of the berries is just one reason the Fraser Valley blueberry business. The berry growers here have played a big part in promoting the industry, said Brian Coombes, president of Chilliwack Economic Partners Corporation.
“They’ve spoken highly about the quality of growers in Chilliwack and its agricultural families that have made a commitment to the blueberry industry,” Coombes said. “There’s no question it’s going to have a really positive impact, and that this is good news for Chilliwack and the Fraser Valley. This is a well established business and the expanded facility is a real positive for the growers in the community.”
The facility, once completely operating, could bring about two dozen jobs to Chilliwack, Phillips said. While the frozen berry storage only takes a few workers to operate, the IQF facility will need about 20 workers in the peak of the season.
The blueberry industry in North America has grown to production levels totaling over a billion pounds. British Columbia is the largest producer of cultivated blueberries in North America, with production over 150 million pounds. Growth is expected to reach 200 million pounds in the near future, with about 95 per cent of that production occurring in the Fraser Valley.
Data collected in 2013 shows that Chilliwack has over 1,000 acres of land in blueberry production, with the number of growers and production increasing even further in recent years.
“Food processing is an important part of a strong agricultural economy and we are pleased to see this new investment in Chilliwack. Berryhill has a great reputation and will bring many jobs to our community,” said Mayor Sharon Gaetz.