A few weeks ago, I was able to travel to Bellingham, Washington, for the Raspberry Harvest Tour, which was sponsored by the National Processed Raspberry Council. Before my travels, I didn't know much about raspberries (except that they're very tasty ...) and now I have much better insight into how they arrive from farm to table, and especially about the IQF (Individually Quick Frozen) process. 

We visited a few farms on the trip, and even got to ride on a harvester machine to get an up-close look at how the raspberries make it from the bushes to the harvesting facilities.

60 percent of the United States' red raspberry crop are grown in Washington, and 97 percent of all processed raspberries (IQF berries, puree, and concentrate) are grown there. Harvest season actually only lasts for a few weeks, and because fresh raspberries should be used within one to two days after purchase, frozen processed raspberries provide a convenient choice for year-round snacking.

Something interesting I learned is that frozen raspberries are technically fresher than fresh raspberries: when you buy a package of frozen raspberries at your local store, whether it be for snacking, smoothies, or another use, they are raspberries that were frozen only a few hours after being picked from the fields. Fresh raspberries, on the other hand, could have been picked days before you purchase them; it's hard to know the exact timeframe.

At Markwell Farms, we were able to ride a harvester machine, which was a cool experience: the machine essentially shakes the raspberry bushes, and on-board there is a driver, a sorter (who sorts out raspberries that are discolored), and two people to transport the crates (once full) from one side of the harvester to the other. 

At the North West Berry Co-op, we tried a few versions of raspberry puree, and we also were able to tour the plant to see how they freeze their raspberries.

On the last day of the harvest tour, we got a peek at Enfield Farms, the total package: they grow, pack, and store their raspberries, all in one location, for the most part. We were also able to do a raspberry taste test, of 12 different varieties, and choose which ones were our favorites.

The NPRC (National Processed Raspberry Council) often does consumer research, and they found that more than 75 percent of consumers wish they could find more food and beverage items made with raspberries in grocery stores and on restaurant menus.

That number isn't surprising to me: I can count on one hand the number of snacks I've seen that are made with raspberries, not including bars that have raspberry filling. When I encounter raspberries in this field, it's mostly in dessert items, such as pies; I'd love to see it in more snack and bakery items at my local grocery store. 

Other consumers have the same idea: of the many items made with raspberries that consumers would like to see on menus, the top three items include salads, dessert items, and ice cream (other items include muffins, yogurt, cereal, cakes, and pies). 

Clean label plays a factor here, too: the NPRC found that when shopping for packaged goods, consumers want anything with fruit in its name to be made with real fruit, and a majority of the time, 63 percent check the label for ingredients. Added to indulgent categories like snacks and chocolate, processed raspberries can deliver on consuemers' desire for both flavor and added health benefits, as well.

The next time you’re working on a snack or bakery product that will incorporate fruit ingredients, consider raspberries. Nearly half of consumers who buy frozen raspberries use them in baked goods such as pastries and muffins, or on desserts like cheesecake. Bringing more baked goods that feature raspberry flavor profiles to market could find a willing audience.