Blueberries are a relatively new crop in Turkey, and the young company is committed to establishing a reputation for its fruit in global markets

YazBerries is on a mission to forge a reputation for Turkish blueberries in international markets, and it has recently partnered with global exporter, Valleyfresh North America, to develop sales into Asia and beyond.

YazBerries' blueberry plantation in Alasehir Manisa

YazBerries’ blueberry plantation in Alasehir Manisa

Despite the global boom in blueberry plantings over the past few decades, the crop is relatively new to Turkey. This is where YazBerries’ founder and general manager, Pinar Unsal, saw a big opportunity – one that was worth changing her career for.

Unsal previously worked as a quality engineer for a global automotive company, and it was while travelling on business in the US in 2018 that she discovered blueberries.

“I loved the taste and texture of the fruit,” she said. “On returning to Turkey, I searched around and found to my surprise that blueberries were not commonly grown here, even though we have ideal climatic conditions. That’s because blueberries are a crop that loves high-acid soils, but low-pH land in Turkey is very limited.”

Unsal undertook extensive research and consulted with agriculture engineering professors, blueberry specialists and nurseries before deciding to grow blueberries in pots in Turkey. “I quit my corporate job and decided to become the woman entrepreneur-grower I am today,” she said.

Controlled production

In 2021, YazBerries planted a 7ha blueberry orchard in Alasehir Manisa in the Aegean region of Turkey. “With a quality-oriented approach, we set out to bring in best-in-class technology and materials to create perfect growing conditions for our blueberry plants,” Unsal explained.

The company has installed a reverse osmosis water filtration system to obtain pure water for irrigation. The 60,000m2 area of soil was covered with plastic mulch film before pots were placed, while hail nets have been fitted to protect plants from hail, heavy rain and direct sunlight. “Our pots are filled with acid substrate mixture from Van der Knaap, and we have installed a fully automated irrigation system from Netafim Pro. Our plants are sourced all the way from Fall Creek nursery in the Netherlands,” Unsal added.

Jumbo berries

YazBerries’ blueberry orchard was completed in April 2022, and today the company has 30,000 blueberry plants, she said. “We grow Northern Highbush varieties – Duke, Topshelf and Valor, which have large berry size, sweet flavour, crunchy texture, and long shelf-life. The earliest fruit is harvested at the end of May and availability can stretch to the beginning of August.”

Fruit is packed gently by hand to protect the bloom in YazBerries’ GlobalGAP-certified packing facility. It is marketed under the Yaz brand, which is named after Unsal’s daughter, Yaz, an avid consumer of blueberries.

Going global

Thanks to airfreight services out of Turkey, YazBerries is able to send fruit to a range of global markets. “Our fruit can be on the shelves of supermarkets in Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Middle East, Maldives, Europe and the UK within a day or two of picking,” said Unsal.

Valleyfresh Global is developing YazBerries’ export sales after Valleyfresh North America director Angelo Costanzo met Unsal at Asia Fruit Logistica 2022 in Bangkok and subsequently visited her operations.

L-r: Angelo Costanzo of Valleyfresh with YazBerries' Pinar Unsal and Safiye & Zekeriya Tarim, who live and work on the farm

L-r: Angelo Costanzo of Valleyfresh with YazBerries’ Pinar Unsal and Safiye & Zekeriya Tarim, who live and work on the farm

“Blueberries are a large category for the Valleyfresh Global business, and we see Turkey as a new and exciting opportunity to expand our global sourcing programme,” said Costanzo.

“I have been very impressed by Pinar’s passion and dedication to the YazBerries blueberry venture. She’s carefully selected the right varieties for international markets and is very conscious about flavour profile and sizing.

“For me, the partnership is a natural fit as we share similar philosophies on getting the right product to our global customers and consumers, and the same commitment to quality.”