'Be cautious with processing', Naturipe warns blueberry growers
The Argentine blueberry season is in its peak period and a smooth transition is expected for Chilean supply, but Southern Hemisphere growers who were banking on high returns for frozen product may need to think twice. Naturipe VP of sales Jim Roberts tells www.freshfruitportal.com about a positive outlook for the fresh blueberry market, but uncertain times for the processed category.
Roberts warns blueberry growers that U.S. freezers are getting full after a domestic season with high production, when many chose the frozen option due to good prices.
"I do think we've seen the processing points hit a high point and I think it’s probably going to start coming down, and I’m a little bit concerned when I hear that buyers aren’t really placing orders right now," he says.
"We saw this happen about four years ago. The process price did the same thing, going up to about US$2 a pound, orders slowed down, and then a year later instead of $2 a pound we were at $0.70-$0.80 a pound, and in some places even lower.
"So that’s my concern right now if I were a grower in Chile – I’d certainly exercise some of that option, but I’d be a little bit more cautious this season than I was last season."
Last season growers received strong returns for frozen blueberries, but Roberts believes the category has 'maxed out' and orders will likely continue to slow.
Fresh season outlook
While Roberts has doubts about the processed market, he is still very upbeat on the transition to the upcoming Chilean season.
"The domestic deal is now finished in North America so it’s primarily all Argentine fruit and pricing is actually very high - we're coming off a record season for domestic blueberries, a really strong market and we expect that will continue into the winter program," he says.
"With the cooler weather in Chile it’s kind of pushed back our stock date on Chilean production, so I don’t think there’s going to be as much cross over as there has been in years past. The way it looks now is we won’t really start seeing a lot of volumes come on from Chile until Argentine volumes kind of drop off.
"It looks like it’s going to be a smooth transition from that point, and that’s actually what we saw drove such great demand in the North American market during our domestic season this year, in that all of our growing regions didn't overlap. When we can do that and mother nature helps us do that, we actually see a stronger market."
Naturipe's merchandising plan is for sales around the low US$20s price mark for a pint of blueberries, which Roberts expects will be accepted by retailers through aggressive promotion plans with peak volumes.
He adds the industry will continue to capitalize on the health benefits of blueberries this year, especially during the new year's resolution period.
Roberts says the prospect of exporting higher blueberry volumes to Asia is something to look forward to, and will help place an expected rise in supply in the coming years.
"From a blueberry producer stand point we’re extremely excited because we know worldwide production of blueberries is going to double in the next four years," he says.
"It's incredible the prices that they’re paying today to get blueberries into their households, so to be able to bring them more fruit, it’s going to help our entire industry."
He says increased blueberry exports to Asia are unlikely to have any dramatic impact on supply to the U.S.
"There's still the challenge of having to supply fruit as it’s a long distance. You can’t deliver the fruit from Chile into Asia by boat, which means your costs will be higher, your price will be higher, so that does limit the penetration you’ll get with the consumer."
Naturipe recently received a 2011 PMA Impact Award for its 'Berry Quick Snacks', with on-the-go packaging that gives a convenient and healthy product to both children and adults alike.