Mexico’s berry boom gathers steam
Mexico’s soft fruit sector has undergone a production revolution over the past decade, rising by almost 95% to more than 310,000 metric tons (MT) between 2000 and 2010, according to the country's Secretary of Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fishing and Food (SAGARPA). At www.freshfruitportal.com we speak with key industry players who believe more growth is on the cards despite various challenges.
This increase was accompanied by a similar rise in the overall planted area for Mexican berries, rising by around 91% to reach 16,357ha.
Valued at an estimated US$500 million, the sector is expected - despite a problematic year price-wise in 2011 - to experience further growth over the coming season, driven by greater investment in blueberry production, production systems and new varieties.
One company that is part of this growth equation is Michoacán-based Fresh Kampo, which exports approximately 1,330MT of strawberries and 540MT of blackberries to the U.S. and Canada.
The volumes are drawn from over 223ha of soft fruit production – comprising 120ha of blackberries, 100ha of strawberries and 3ha of raspberries – in the southwestern Mexican state.
Fresh Kampo manager Fabricio Blanco says the company hopes to experience a strong season this year, thanks to favorable climate conditions, which he believes will produce a large, high quality crop.
While the entity may be principally focused on blackberry and strawberry production, Blanco reveals that the company already has plans in place to increase its raspberry business, after acquiring a license to produce the Lupita and Adelita varieties.
Both, he says, have shown "excellent conditions for productivity, quality, sizing and shelf-life", which he predicts will enable the varieties to become "very competitive" over the coming years in markets where there is an increasing demand for raspberries.
However, Blanco argues further opportunities to increase sales in the U.S. market - for Fresh Kampo and the Mexican soft fruit sector as a whole - depend very much on the industry's and willingness to work together to position Mexican berries in the "correct sales channels".
Blanco also believes that the Mexican berry sector's cause could be furthered by addressing what he describes as the lack of genetic material that differentiates [Mexican] varieties in order to prevent the sale of commodity products in the market.
Similarly, Guanajuato-based Growers Union, which also markets under the Sofresco and Berry Lovers brand names, has its business primarily in the sale of strawberries and blackberries, along with as smaller volumes of blueberries. The company ships to Canada, the U.S., the U.K. and continental Europe.
For the 2012-13 season alone, the company expects to export 510MT of blackberries, 61MT of blueberries and, most significantly, 10,000MT of strawberries.
"We hope we won’t experience climatological problems like those we saw last year at the beginning of October and that we have a more stable season," says Berry Lovers' chief operating officer, Gerardo López.
"Volumes are continuing to increase and in particular we hope to have 40 per cent more product than during the 2011-12 season."
Although based in the city of León, Guanajuato, Growers Union’s main production zones are located near the town of Los Reyes in the neighboring state of Michoacán, where it produces varieties such as Tuppi blackberries and Albion strawberries.
For Growers Union, the U.S. remains a significant market and one in which López believes there are strong possibilities to grow sales further.
"The market is still growing in terms of the scale of the demand, but it is a question of having the right pricing strategy to significantly increase consumption levels," he says.
López argues the greatest challenge currently facing the Mexican berry sector is achieving greater integration in order to promote its products in non-conventional markets.
Speaking to www.freshfruitportal.com, the company's Raúl Fernández, explains Campo Elite currently exports around 1,000MT of blackberries and blueberries to the U.S. and Canada, as well as approximately 400MT of mainly raspberries and blueberries annually to Asia and the U.K., which accounts for some 80% of the firm's sales in Europe.
Fernández says the company expects, among a number of other goals for 2012, to achieve a "significant increase" in blackberry and blueberry production, thanks to very favorable weather-conditions experienced in Colima and Jalisco over recent months.
However, as with much of the sector, Campo Elite is hoping to develop its blueberry business in particular yet further over the coming seasons.
In addition to producing Biloxi – one of the most common blueberries produced in Mexico – the company has been developing its own varieties at research centres in Mexico and abroad.
Fernández reveals that Campo Elite's researchers have succeeded in breeding two "very promising" new blueberry varieties, so far only named 'Elite1' and 'Elite2', which it hopes could eventually drive greater growth in its export business.