Mexican berry sector urged to avoid "peaks and saturations"

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Mexican berry sector urged to avoid "peaks and saturations"

Leading exporters in Mexico believe the country has the ability to achieve year-round production and, potentially, dominate berry markets in the seasons to come. At the Aneberries Congress in Guadalajara earlier this month caught up with growers and shippers to discuss how this is possible. The consensus was that Mexico has huge potential but the industry needed to avoid saturating markets while also convincing consumers its berries were safe to eat.

Zapopan-based berry marketer Magromex managing director Alejandra Magaña, believes Mexico has come a long way in a relatively short period of time as a soft fruit producer and argues it has the ability to still go further.

"Our competition – from Argentina, Chile and Guatemala – is increasing, but thanks to our climate and our soil, Mexico has the potential to be the leader in berries in the future," she says.

Magaña believes the country berry sector could go some way towards realizing its vision if it could tap into its underdeveloped soft fruit market, which has been affected for many years by widespread - though increasingly irrelevant - concerns about safety.

"Before we only had six weeks of production, but if we can introduce a culture of consumption here in Mexico, we could produce berries all year round."

Magromex differs from many of its peers in that it specialises in buying and marketing berries from small producers, 400 in total, based principally in Michoacán.

However, Magaña admits that with only 20% of its growers certified, the company still has work to do in developing its full export potential.

Mario Andrade from Splendor Produce

"Not all our producers are certified, but those that are produce fruit that is sent to Europe."

For Mario Andrade Cárdenas from Splendor Produce, the perceived lack of safety continues to haunt Mexican berry growers, even if much of the sector has made huge strides forward over recent years.

"We have made great advances in terms of food safety, but we have to engender confidence in consumers that they are eating a safe product," he says.

For this reason Andrade says Aneberries, on whose board he serves, is currently developing a major worldwide promotional campaign aimed at educating consumers in consuming countries about the quality and safety of Mexican soft fruit.

He says better management of its volumes and exports is also key to the further development of Mexico's berry sector, arguing improved planning is needed during the production stage to avoid "peaks and saturations" in supply.

"We need to supply our markets in a controlled manner without saturating them."

Like much of the rest of the sector, Splendor Produce specialises in blackberries (more than 450ha) and raspberries (200ha), around 80% of which is exported to the U.S.

Andrade admits to a strong interest to exporting berries to Asia - especially Hong Kong, the Chinese mainland and Japan - and Europe in the U.K. and Germany. Russia is also of interest, although he concedes that, like China, achieving market entry is likely to be a lengthy process, fraught with complications.

The search for new markets is very much a topic echoed by José Valadez, general manager of Hurst's Mexico, the Mexican arm of the U.S. soft fruit group. He says Europe, the Middle East and Asia are all targets for the company's exports.

"We export to the U.K., Holland and France, and from there across Europe, but we are now also working to enter Dubai and possibly Brazil," he says.

The company, which has berry farms in Jalisco, Colima and Michoacán, produces around 3,000 metric tons (MT) of fruit each year, some 95% of which is shipped.

Jorge Melchor and Jose Valadez from Hurst's Mexico

However, Valadez admits there remain major challenges for the berry sector to overcome before it can expand further, foremost of which are the needs to improve quality, volumes and food safety. He stresses Hurst's only with growers that meet its safety and quality standards.

Also making strong progress in export markets is Jalisco-based Berries Paradise, which was "born of the union" of the two Jalisco-based farming families Ortiz and Vargas in 2008.

The group started producing blackberries and blueberries that same year and now have 154ha of the former and 220ha of the latter, as well as 30 ha of a newer venture, raspberries.

Although 75% of Berries Paradise's volume is exported to the U.S., the firm is focusing on establishing its business in Asia and last year it became the first Mexican berry company to send a container of Mexican blueberries directly to Japan.

"When our first container of blueberries arrived in Japan, it was subjected to a strict inspection, but we knew we wouldn’t have any problems and this season we hope to double or triple the quantity," says the group's managing director Rubén Ramos.

He reveals that Berries Paradise is currently in talks with Walmart to supply all of its outlets in Japan with blueberries, adding that the company hopes to further benefit from the 17 days it takes to ship berries from Mexico compared with an average of 30 days from Chile.

"When the Chilean product arrives, the Mexican blueberries have already been eaten."

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