A Longtime Part of Maine
Wyman’s is as much a part of Maine as the wild blueberries it sells.
Those of us who live or grew up in Maine know there’s a reason that wild blueberries are the official state fruit. These tiny berries really pack the punch not only when it comes to flavor but also when it comes to health benefits. They have twice as much antioxidants as cultivated blueberries.
Jasper Wyman and Son, also known as Wyman’s, is headquartered in the rural community of Milbridge. It is one of the oldest blueberry companies in the state. The company was founded in 1874 by Jasper Wyman and was originally a sardine cannery. Jasper switched over to blueberries about 25 years later, realizing that it was a better move economically to focus on wild blueberries, a unique local crop that has proven to be popular beyond the state of Maine.
This move to pivot the business speaks to the resiliency of this company, which is still owned by the same family, now in the fourth generation, said Colleen Craig, brand manager for Wyman’s.
April Norton, Wyman’s human resources director, agrees. “We’ve always had this very progressive focus. It’s not just about today, it’s also about tomorrow. The leaders are always looking ahead,” she said.
It’s an interesting juxtaposition, this family business in Down East Maine that’s a national contender in the fruit industry.
“We’re literally headquartered in the place we were founded,” said Colleen. “In August we surpassed our competitor to become the number one frozen fruit in the country (specifically in the retail channel).”
Wild blueberries are native primarily to northern New England and Canada, where they thrive in glacial soils. Wyman’s harvests berries from the thousands of acres it owns, and also sources them through grower partners—some of whom are farm families the company has worked with for generations.
The berries from Wyman’s and its partners grow wild in fields called the barrens. The plants were not put there by people.
“They were planted by mother nature thousands of years ago,” said Colleen.
Wild berries have a two-year cycle and are harvested every other year.
Because of their wild nature, a field of wild blueberry plants will have numerous genetically distinct plants, resulting in a range of shapes, colors, and sizes.
Though cultivated blueberries are bigger and more uniform looking, they are bloated and watery compared to the more flavorful wild blueberry, said Colleen and April, who, no surprise, are huge fans of the fruit. Colleen enjoys wild blueberries with granola for a quick breakfast, and April likes eating the berries with oatmeal.
Wild blueberries are ideal in pastries because you’re going to get more berries per bite and more flavor.
These traits make them highly sought-after by pastry chefs and bakers. Open up a package of Betty Crocker wild blueberry muffin mix, and you’ll find a can of Wyman’s wild blueberries. Bite into a blueberry muffin from Starbucks, and you’ll get a mouthful of Wyman’s berries.
Blueberries, because of their delicate skin, are difficult to ship over long distances fresh, and they are frozen within 24 hours of harvesting.
Wyman’s is involved in every step of the blueberry business from start to finish, including harvesting the berries from the barrens, processing them in the company’s manufacturing facility, and marketing the products to a bigger audience.
“You see your efforts come to full fruition—sorry for the pun,” said Colleen.
Though Wyman’s signature product is the Wild Maine blueberry, it has broadened its product base over the years. The company now has 20 items that it sells in grocery stores throughout the country. In addition to frozen blueberries, they also sell other frozen fruits like strawberries and raspberries. The company hand-picks the fruit producers it partners with, to assure customers are getting a good product.
“We don’t work with anyone who doesn’t match our quality standards,” said April.
The company, striving to create a product that tasted good and was healthy and convenient, launched Just Fruit in 2019. Just Fruit is a grab-and-go frozen snack—single-serving cups of frozen berries or tiny pieces of “just fruit” mixed in with tiny bite size pieces of frozen yogurt. The vegan version has bananas.
In addition to producing and selling fruit, Wyman’s is passionate about people eating more fruit as part of a healthy lifestyle. To help encourage people to eat blueberries, there is a wide range of recipes on www.wymans.com, including kid-friendly snacks and desserts, smoothies, and savory entrees.
“We’re deeply rooted in Down East Maine,” said Colleen, this time not apologizing for the pun.
The company is a major employer for the rural area, employing about 185 people full-time. Through partnerships with the community college system, it provides opportunities for workers to advance their education and give them the skills needed to stay in a career that will allow them to buy their first home and support their family, said Colleen.
Wyman’s also provides an annual scholarship to high school seniors and supports numerous local non-profits.
The company has become a leader in bee preservation and also strives to protect natural resources into the future.
“We have to be good stewards of our land, or we don’t have a good crop,” said April.