Global blueberry production to double in five years, says Naturipe

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Global blueberry production to double in five years, says Naturipe

International blueberry production is forecast to double in the next five years with strong input from Southern Hemisphere exporters, but industry leaders and growers still face marketing and logistical challenges. Naturipe Farms vice-president of sales Jim Roberts tells where the demand will come from.

The Southern Hemisphere blueberry season is coming to a close, but limited aerial arrivals on the U.S. west coast have been met with strong demand recently, due Californian crop delays.

"At the moment we’ve seen the last boats from Chile arriving in the States. There’s not a lot but some are coming in by air, and the domestic blueberry season is off to a slow start," says Roberts.

"Florida is normal but California has been delayed - there's hardly any produce in California right now and there’s still another seven or 10 days before we’ll see production. It's been weather-related, they're not seeing the temperatures they needed.

"In order to fly them in to the West Coast from Florida they have to fumigate, and with such a strong market on the East Coast it just isn’t worthwhile for Florida blueberries to be fumigated."

Opportunities and obstacles for Argentina and Chile

Fumigation has also proved to be a difficult issue for Argentina, with a trade-off between quality, price and time in transit from the farm.

"It was a challenging season for the folks in Argentina, they have logistics challenges in getting to the U.S., either by fumigating or getting in by boat, or flight which is expensive and pushes up prices for retailers," he says.

"To get into the U.S. they have to have a lower retail cost and that’s a challenge we’re fighting with; either they come by boat and risk quality issues, or they fly by air and they’ll be close to or under the breakeven cost.

"The biggest challenge for Argentina is the logistics challenge and they’ll have to get past that."

He says U.S. demand has increased sharply with a 30% rise in imports from Chile this season, while the frozen and processed markets will continue to gain importance with food companies using blueberries as ingredients in products.

"In the States almost 50% of fresh produce is going to the freezer market, but that’s not the case in Chile, where there’s a much smaller percentage," he says.

"There was a significant increase for processed blueberries and frozen blueberries this season, and it’s become more profitable for CPG (consumer packaged goods) companies, who are making products with blueberries as ingredients.

"There’s a lot of talk in the processed freezer industry about finding a balance between stable prices that are profitable for growers, but also so that companies can include blueberry ingredients in products."

New output needs new demand

Europe is increasing blueberry production for its market which is not as established as in North America, while other regions plan to increase production too.

"What we’re seeing in Spain is that they’re producing a lot of blueberries, there’s planting in France, Germany, Poland, China, and South America with Peru, Argentina and Chile," he says.

"There's a lot of production all over the world, now in South Africa for instance they’re going to produce, and these export markets are largely untapped, they’re not so developed.

"In the next five years, worldwide production of blueberries is going to almost double, and we’re going to have to find additional areas of demand, like schools, more product development such as recipes, restaurants, quick service restaurants like Wendy’s, Burger King, McDonalds, putting blueberries in happy meals for example."

He says logistics and price issues mean it would be very difficult for foreign countries to compete with U.S. producers in the North American market when blueberries are in season, but countries with counter-seasons will be able to benefit from retailers that demand blueberries on the shelves all year.

"30% of consumers in the U.S. purchase blueberries at some point of the year, but that’s fairly low compared to strawberries, which are purchased by 70% of households," he says.

"That's the percentage where blueberries are going. They index well with kids and obviously that goes well with moms - we're going to see consumption increase dramatically."

He said Spain would would have more difficulty entering the U.S. market as it has the same blueberry season.

Related stories: Chilean blueberry export season finishes

Climate instability leads to increased blueberry rejections in Chile

Argentine blueberry growers want export tax cuts


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