Mexico sets its berry sights on the Far East
Unsurprisingly, the majority of the resulting volumes are exported to Mexico’s northern neighbours, the U.S. and Canada, which remain most Mexican growers’ automatic markets of choice.
But the rapid expansion of berry production in the country over the past 10 years, as well as somewhat problematic prices in the U.S. recently, has meant the sector is increasingly examining new, potentially more lucrative, destinations for its fruit.
China dominated presentations and discussions at the Aneberries Congress, Oct. 3-5 in Guadalajara, which was organized by National Association of Berry Exporters (Aneberries AC).
The increasing adoption of Western eating habits in the country, as well Chile’s recent successful negotiation of market entry for its soft fruit, mean that from being a closed, almost unreachable destination, China has become a more realistic possibility for Mexico’s berry exporters.
Aneberries president Mario Steta, explained although the Mexican sector has some logistics problems – with all berry airfreight to Asia presently going through the U.S. – the market remains attractive to Mexican growers.
“We have production – from October through to April in the case of strawberries and June for blackberries and blueberries – that complements demand and production in the U.S. and Canada, but without a doubt there is a need to diversify markets.”
He said with Mexican berries already present in Japan, China and Hong Kong, the East was very much on the sector’s collective radar.
“We are now in Japan and a few weeks ago we were at a trade fair in Hong Kong and we believe there are possibilities to export much larger volumes there.
“After that we that we have the objective of reaching China. This was a market that for many years was completely closed to berry imports, but a few months ago, Chile achieved entry for their blueberries and now they can begin exporting, in an official manner.”
Following Chile’s example, Steta said the berry sector was currently “working very hard” with Mexico’s food safety and quality authority Senasica to enter the Chinese market.
Europe still matters
However, Asia is not the only interesting market and Steta was keen to emphasize Europe remains very much an ongoing concern for Mexican berry exporters.
“We airfreight blackberries and blueberries to Europe from November through to March and although we do have some logistics problems, our raspberries and blackberries have been present in the European market for some time, particularly in the U.K. and Germany.
“The volume isn’t huge but in value terms it’s interesting and it’s going to continue increasing.”
Steta’s faith is based on the impressive volume growth the berry sector has achieved from a total production of around 156,088 metric tons (MT) in 2000 to 385,929MT in 2011; over 90% of which was exported.
According to Mexican government figures, blackberries have been hugely important in this growth. The sector last year produced 136,000MT – compared with 14,000MT in 2000 – while the total production area also rose to 10,724 hectares from 1,153 a decade before.
Steta further confidently predicted the Mexican berry sector could double the size of its industry in terms of production area and volumes over the next five years.
“The trend towards growth will continue, but obviously there are risks and we have to take care as an industry – however, the growth we have seen over recent years is accelerating.”
Despite this, Steta admitted challenges remained for the sector. Blackberry production, he argued, needed to achieve greater quality consistency to grow further, while raspberry producers had been held back by a lack of access to suitable varieties; although this situation was gradually improving.
Expanding blueberry production also remained an important challenge.
“Mexico has not been known as a blueberry producer, even though the product has been established here for 10 years, especially in Jalisco.
“At the moment, Chile has a dominant position in the North American market starting from October, but Mexico has a lot of potential to replace Chile during this period of autumn and now we are starting to do it.”
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