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McClatchy-Tribune  08/31/2014 7:23 AM ET
Brand building in the Maine #blueberry barrens [Portland Press Herald, Maine :: ]

Aug. 31--ELLSWORTH -- On a cloudy August day on the blueberry barrens, about a dozen female bloggers from around the country, most of them registered dietitians, picked up metal blueberry rakes and obligingly stooped to conquer Maine's wild blueberry. The feedback was immediate. "Great workout!" The Bikini Chef said approvingly. Sugar-Free Mom took three swipes through the low bushes, paused to breathe and agreed emphatically. Meanwhile the Nutrition Twins, smartphones at the ready, leaned in for closeups of the berries.

The humble blueberry rake has barely evolved in the last century. But the wild blueberry itself has already come a long way since the days of Sal, vaunted not just for bear snacks and maternal jam making but now for its reputation as a "superfood," a tiny package jammed with startling amounts of nutrients and antioxidants. And this three-day Blog the Barrens junket for social media types, sponsored by the Wild Blueberry Association of North America, was devised to take that reputation even further.

The group has hosted an annual summit of researchers in Bar Harbor since 1998, but this is the first time they've done anything like this. The junket included a tour of the Wyman processing plants, a visit to Cherryfield Foods' ever-expanding barrens and this lesson in raking at Merrill Blueberry Farms.

If that felt like work, there also was a boat trip to eat lobster on Little Cranberry Island, a plate-arranging competition featuring blueberry salsas at the Bar Harbor Inn, and a dinner at Havana in Bar Harbor, where the group was all aflutter over the presence of master food stylist Martha Stewart eating dinner at the next table.

The skies were dramatic, the blueberries cute, the blueberry mojitos even more endearing. Even with rain and a flat tire on the tour bus, the trip was a publicist's dream. And if the Nutrition Twins -- Tammy Lakatos Shames and Lyssie (pronounced Lay-see) Lakatos of New York City -- so much as mentioned Maine berries on Pinterest, where they have 3.9 million followers, then that would be a boost for a berry that already brings in an estimated $173 million annually in direct sales and provides 2,500 seasonal jobs in the economically strapped Down East region.

Better yet, if the Twins told their followers and their clients (they are also personal trainers) they'd returned from Maine with the intention of stuffing their petite selves with the state's wild blueberries to stave off cancer, eye degeneration, type 2 diabetes, memory loss or any of a host of other ailments the association told them wild blueberries have been shown to help prevent or combat, that would be a bonanza.

Because, in the national scheme of things, our native blueberry, prized though it may be by many, faces a few big limitations.

"Our big negative is we don't get into the produce aisle," Ed Flanagan, the president of Wyman's of Maine, told the bloggers.

That's because the wild blueberry is a terrible traveler. In fact, unless it's frozen, the Maine wild blueberry rarely leaves the state intact.

It's small. And Americans like supersized items at least as much as, if not more than, superfoods. It won't grow just anywhere. Maine harvests 98 percent of the nation's wild blueberries, almost entirely grown in lousy, shallow soil on glacial outwash in Hancock and Washington counties.

With the commerce deck stacked against it, maybe the wild blueberry does need the Nutrition Twins. And the Sugar-Free Mom and that Bikini Chef.

INFLUENCING THE INFLUENCERS

These are just the stage names for the "influencers" handpicked by Ethos Marketing and Design, the Westbrook firm that organized the junket for the wild blueberry association.

Belinda Donovan, public relations director for Ethos, said she booked the 12 available slots in just two days. Maine in summer is obviously a big draw and some of these women have never been here before, like The Bikini Chef (more than 18,000 followers on Twitter), aka Susan Irby, who flew in from California's Orange County. The name stems not from Irby's proclivity for or abilit

 

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