Mexico's blackberry boom and strawberry challenges
Mexico's blackberry and strawberry industries have grown significantly in recent years, but the latter has faced constraints this season due to higher volumes in Florida. Supplying Oppenheimer Group for its North American marketing, Michoacán-based Mainland Farms is one company that has experienced the changes taking place. Managing partner Alejandro Sahagun tells www.freshfruitportal.com about the season so far and how there's still more room for blackberries in international markets.
Sahagun says 2011-12 has been an "interesting" season for Mexican berries, and indeed it has been an interesting decade for the fruit too. Both blackberries and strawberries have witnessed sharp growth over the period.
"Blackberry production and export has grown substantially in the last 10 years. While a fairly young industry, Mexico now exports over 20 million trays to the U.S. annually, and sends fruit to Europe as well," he says.
"Structurally, we've seen a great deal of change with new marketing companies becoming interested in fruit from the area. Land in central Mexico that was formerly used to produce sugar cane is now dedicated to blackberries.
"Competition for the market has led to greater sophistication in important areas like food safety and agriculture practices. Mexican blackberries enjoy an open marketing window that begins as Guatemala winds down in October and lasts through May."
Sahagun highlights that strawberry production is more entrenched in the region after many years of production.
"Strawberries, on the other hand, have been grown in the Zamora Valley for a long time. Water and labor are readily available there, and with the strong market opportunities, large plantations were developed.
"Exports began about a decade ago,and gained significant momentum in the last five years as many new marketing companies got involved. Mexico only competes with Florida during the winter window, so there is an opportunity to move substantial volume to the U.S."
The 2011-12 season
Sahagun says weather has been good in 2011-12 in all berry-growing areas which has led to increased production, which has made the season difficult to program. In terms of strawberries, recent market dynamics could lead to a more stagnant Mexican export sector for the coming season.
"Regarding strawberries, production grew quite substantially during the past five years following excellent marketing seasons. This year, however, while facing such a saturated market, surely growers will be reluctant to increase and some may actually partially reduce their operations.
"Looking ahead, we'll be setting promotions with Oppenheimer customers to help move the higher volumes through at the steadiest pace possible."
Sahagun is more bullish about blackberries.
"In recent years, blackberry production has grown exponentially in Mexico, and blackberries are also performing well within the berry category at retail. We believe there's the potential for more.
"Well known companies have created a large presence in Mexico and have identified blackberries as an item with the most growth potential. Consumption is up because it has become more affordable to purchase blackberries virtually year round.
"Mexico can also deliver berries with greater quality than ever before, because refrigerated transportation is plentiful thanks to the growth of our industry."
Sahagun says the market is also looking for larger packs for its berries.
"With blackberries for example, in the past a 6-oz clam was fairly typical, but with the growth in production and in demand, we are seeing the evolution to 12 and 18-oz packs as a mainstream item, not just a club pack."