By Vance M. Whitaker
The patented Florida Pearl™ (FL 16.78-109) pineberry is a newcomer on the U.S. berry market in the last two years. It has appeared in stores under multiple brand names, including Pinkaboo and Berry De Blanc.
ABOUT THE BERRY
Pearl has white flesh inside and out, with a pink blush on the outside when ripe. The seeds also turn bright red when ripe, giving this fruit a color scheme that is like a red strawberry in reverse. The texture of Florida Pearl™ is a little bit softer than red strawberries, and the flavor is characterized by low acidity and a subtle pineapple aroma.
Fruit are harvested into single-layer, 10-ounce clamshells, providing distinct packaging to go along with a distinct appearance and flavor. The hope is that, in time, pineberries will be established as a fifth berry in U.S. supermarkets, along with red strawberries, blueberries, blackberries and raspberries.
Pineberries are essentially white strawberries and belong to the same species as the red strawberries that we all know and love. White forms of strawberries exist in nature, and breeders have been harnessing these forms in recent years by crossing them with modern red strawberries.
The source of white color in Florida Pearl™ comes from Japan, where white strawberries have been prized for several years. The first cross between the Japanese source and red strawberries was made in 2012. These first seedlings had small fruit and low yield, but after a second cross back to red strawberries in 2016, the resulting plants had more typical fruit size and yield, except with white color. Florida Pearl™ was commercialized by the University of Florida (UF) strawberry breeding program in 2020.
During the 2021–22 season, about 150 acres of Florida Pearl™ were grown in Central Florida. Similar acreage is being grown in California this summer to provide closer to year-round availability. Next season, the acreage is expected to double in Florida, with about 300 acres. The yield of Florida Pearl™ in Florida has been about 75% of the yield of Florida Brilliance, which is the leading red variety. It is also somewhat later-yielding, with a slower start to the season in December. Nevertheless, the variety has been profitable due to rapid acceptance at retail and relatively high prices thus far.
At present, Florida Pearl™ is exclusive to Florida-based companies, as are all UF strawberry varieties in the first three years after commercialization. However, a limited number of trials are being allowed with permission from the Florida Strawberry Growers Association (FSGA). In 2023, the three-year Florida exclusive window will close, and Florida Pearl™ will be more widely available.
Growers who are interested in planting the pineberry in the fall of 2023 with the intent to provide fruit to retail supermarkets should contact the FSGA to discuss a fruit-growing license. Initial trials have been conducted in high-tunnel production systems with good success thus far. As a result, Florida Pearl™ is recommended for both open field and high-tunnel production.
Looking to the future, the UF strawberry breeding program is continuing to develop new pineberries, with selection FL 18.52-66 identified for commercialization in 2023. Breeding efforts will continue to prioritize flavor and quality, while also aiming to increase earliness and yields to levels closer to the leading red strawberry varieties.
Vance M. Whitaker is a professor at the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Gulf Coast Research and Education Center in Wimauma.