A look at how Arkieva customer, Driscoll’s is evolving and elevating the standards for berry production.

It’s 5 am. It’s time to go for a run.

The weather is so beautiful; there is no need to confine myself to a “human hamster wheel” also known as a treadmill. I’m in beautiful Watsonville, CA. On my run along the beach, I notice that the daytime bustling beach walkway is now empty – no cyclers. I ran past a few runners like me trying to get an early run before the day gets busy. The ocean that was once crowded with surfers waiting to catch the next wave is now free. The wind gusts provide a comfortable, cool breeze. Not too cold, not too humid, just perfect. Later that day, I’m told by a Driscoll’s “joy maker” that’s the perfect weather for berries.

It’s day one of my Driscoll’s University experience.

I’m truly excited about learning more about what’s behind the supply chain of Driscoll’s. I can’t wait to find out about how their berries are cultivated and how they make their selections. I’m excited about digging in deeper to know more beyond the S&OP solutions that we provide.

[Read More: Driscoll’s is Evolving Berry Production with Robot Cultivation and Substrate Farming]  

Over 140 Years of Berry Innovation

For the first day of the Driscoll’s University experience, I learn about the company’s long-standing history from 1872 till now. We also discuss how planning for a berry from nursery to fruit takes about five years. Our planning systems for Driscoll’s are modeled after this business process. “Geez! All that planning for berries?” I thought to myself. I now have a new-found appreciation each time I enjoy a delicious berry from Driscoll’s.

Driscoll’s in the 1940’s. Image source: Driscoll’s website

Driscoll’s Production Planning

For a seedling to be ready for commercial production in 2017 for instance, the Driscoll’s team had to start planning at least five years prior. The highly detailed process includes nursing plants in nurseries, greenhouses, and then testing plants on test plots and conducting flavor-tests. The greenhouse temperatures and water are computer controlled and are determined by the seedling stage of growth. As seedlings get ready to be transferred to test plots they are exposed to harsher conditions to simulate the conditions that the plant might face when outside. This carefully executed process is aimed at producing plants that are much more resistant to diseases and provide the most flavorful and attractive fruits possible.

Green Houses

Test Plots

Natural Cross-Pollination

Due to the company’s commitment to quality berries that have a consumer-pleasing appearance and taste, Driscoll’s utilizes natural cross-pollination breeding. Driscoll’s has created a proprietary breeding process, that’s similar to what you may have learned about in elementary or high school. They remove pollen grain seeds from male plants and then pollinate with pollen from another plant. This is similar to the pollination process created by bees, the wind, or other natural pollination factors.

At a blueberry fertilization site, I’m truly marveled by the fertilization process that takes place. Fertilization is done in container labs, and the facility is highly sterile, and as a result, we are not allowed to enter.

It’s a well-orchestrated production involving careful precision.

“The biggest challenge that the fertilization site faces has to do with keeping the plant alive with no bacteria or fungus. The amount of the plants that we produce each as a company grows every year. To solve these challenges, we work closely with the pathology lab program for better quality control,” said Daniel Torres, Tissue Culture Supervisor, at Driscoll’s.

As more consumers move towards demanding organic products, Driscoll’s is continuously reinventing to meet this demand by creating organic products from conception and throughout the growing process. As a part of the breeding and research process, the company is focused on developing berries that are resistant to certain diseases, therefore, reducing the need for chemical pest control.

Seedling Pollination Labs

Plant Pathology

Have you ever heard of plant pathology? I know, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about this. As mentioned by Mr. Torres, Driscoll’s has a department dedicated to helping breeders cultivate plants that are resistant to diseases or pathogens. One scientist mentioned that their research methodologies are now highly developed that they can find pathogens even without plants to help determine if the growers should grow certain plants. This innovation makes pathology more preventative instead of after the fact.

We also visit some raspberry fields. The sunshine raspberries are flavorful and full of a sunshine experience.

Raspberry Fields

Highly Strict Product Quality Control

For day two of the Driscoll’s University experience, we turn our attention to quality and logistics.

After berries are harvested, berries are sent to cooling facilities kept at about 33 degrees Fahrenheit. This temperature ensures product freshness through the storing and transporting process. To ensure quality, sample berries packaged in clamshells are physically examined and scored based on fruit appearance and packaging. Certain fruit deformities like fungus, or rotting fruits are heavily weighted using a scoring matrix. I find out during our day three strawberry picking experience that meeting this criterion is extremely difficult. During the quality check, if examined fruits do not meet the passing score the entire crate is rejected and sent back to the grower for further evaluation.

[Read More: What’s the Core Purpose of Supply Chain Management?]

Quality Control Sites

Cooling Facilities

The last day during the Driscoll’s University experience, we had a berry picking contest. My colleague and I were on the same team, and we ended up coming in at 4th place (not that anyone is counting, only 1st place counts). I now have a new-found appreciation and respect for people who work out in the fields. While the berry picking experience was fun, it was also very tedious and time-consuming.

Berry Picking

Freshly Picked Strawberries

Arkieva Team After the Berry Picking Challenge

Driscoll’s University Group After Berry Picking

Cheesy strawberries?

Throughout my experience exploring the people and process behind the supply chain of Driscoll’s, I had the chance to taste so many types of strawberries, blueberries, blackberries, and raspberries. Each berry came with its own flavor, appearance, and level of sweetness. Who knew that cheesy tasting strawberries were actually a thing?

Organic Blackberries

We also visit organic blackberry field from one of Driscoll’s top growers, who explains the process that Driscoll’s takes to create organic, tasty berries. I enjoyed some of the best-tasting blackberries ever, and I also learned about picking the best-tasting blackberries when shopping. No more “battery-acid-tasting” blackberries for me!

Fresh Blackberries

Arkieva team enjoying some fresh blackberries

I’m blown away by Driscoll’s commitment to innovation and the ability to delight consumers by continuously improving their production processes. At Arkieva, we often advise our customers to embrace change and look to creating a continuous improvement process throughout their entire supply chain network. It’s a truly prideful moment when you experience a customer like Driscoll’s that has the DNA embedded in their entire supply chain process. Not just in the technology piece.

So yes, berries from Driscoll’s are not just average berries. They are worth savoring – till the last bite. 


Behind the Chain Blog Series

Behind the Chain is an Arkieva blog series aimed at telling the story of Arkieva’s customers without a heavy focus on the technology systems that Arkieva provides. The stories from these series are meant to celebrate Arkieva’s customers and strategic partnerships by looking beyond the supply chain technologies to experience a customer’s day-to-day production or sales and operations process. If you are an Arkieva customer, interested in having your story featured email editor@arkieva.com for more information.

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