Antioxidant activity, total phenolic content, anthocyanin content, and six other fruit characters including titratable acid concentration, soluble solids, firmness, and percentage of bruised berries were determined for nine blueberry (Vaccinium L. sp.) cultivars at harvest and at various postharvest intervals after storage at 5 degrees C. Berries from MSU-58, Brigitta, and Legacy stored successfully for 7 weeks, Bluegold stored for 3-5 weeks, Bluecrop, Elliott, and Nelson stored for 3 weeks, and Jersey and Little Giant stored for fewer than 3 weeks. During the time they retained marketable quality, one cultivar (MSU-58) demonstrated a 29% increase in antioxidant activity. None of the cultivars showed a significant decrease from the harvest antioxidant activity value during storage. Antioxidant activity, total phenolic content, and anthocyanin content were strongly correlated with each other (r = 0.87-0.99, P < 0.01). All three parameters were moderately correlated with soluble solids (r = 0.47, P < or =0.05; r = 0.44, P < or = 0.05; and r = 0.64, P < or = 0.01, respectively), and antioxidant activity and total phenolic content were both moderately correlated with pH (r = 0.53 and 0.49, respectively; P < or = 0.05). However, antioxidant activity, total phenolic content, and anthocyanin content showed no correlation with firmness, percent severely bruised berries, or weight loss. Antioxidant activity and total phenolic content at harvest both correlated with titratable acidity at harvest (r = 0.68, P < or = 0.05 and r = 0.70, P < or = 0.05, respectively) on a cultivar mean basis. Berries from Elliott were also harvested from plants at two levels of bush ripeness (30-50% and 60-80% ripe berries on plants) and separated into three fruit maturity classes on the basis of percent blue color. The level of bush ripeness had no significant effect on antioxidant activity, total phenolic content, or anthocyanin content; however, fruit maturity had a significant effect on antioxidant activity, total phenolic content, and anthocyanin content, and bush ripeness x fruit maturity interactions were significant for these three traits. Berries with 50-75% blue coloration harvested from bushes with 60-80% mature fruit showed a significant increase in antioxidant activity, total phenolic content, and anthocyanin content during the first 3 weeks in storage. Our results demonstrate that increases in antioxidant activity, total phenolic content, and anthocyanin content may occur in the blueberry during cold storage and are cultivar-dependent. The increases that occur in immature fruit, such as in Elliott, may be advantageous for producers who wish to delay marketing of the fruit.