Polish Blueberry Cooperative aims to be leading player
Made up of Polskie Jagody, Elliot and Berrygroup, the cooperative has production in the country’s west near Poznan, as well as in the southeastern areas of Rzeszow and Lublin.
During industry event Fruit Logistica in Berlin last week, Elliot president Dorota Zęgota told www.freshfruitportal.com the group could potentially be Poland's top grower this year, provided there are no upsets from the weather.
“With over 400 hectares production will reach a level of 3,000 [metric] tons (MT), so we’re going to be the biggest player in Poland," she said.
“We decided to consolidate, to team up and start this new entity to promote our standards, to promote Polish blueberries, to cooperate and share our knowledge. That will make us stronger.
“It will benefit us, it will benefit our clients, and it will benefit the image of Polish blueberries I think all over the world.”
Polskie Jagody sales manager Agata Małkiewicz said the cooperative was formed at just the right time in early 2016, following discussions of the concept after the season's finish in the fall of last year.
"We have all known each other for quite some time so we’re confident that this cooperation will last for a long time,” she said.
“Poland is in this comfortable position where in our season we don’t have many competitors. Our fruit is very good – we hear it from our clients that the quality is excellent so we are confident that we can grow without any issues.
“Our season of course starts when the Western European season is going on and ends when the Southern Hemisphere starts, but in the middle of our season we are the only ones producing blueberries basically.”
Asia’s got the blues
She said Europe was the main market for the fruit, but since Polskie Jagody began airfreight shipments to Asia last year she is confident the cooperative will rapidly expand in the region in 2016.
“We sent our blueberries to Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Japan, and this year hopefully we’ll add Hong Kong to the mix…we’re doing very well; we did not have any quality problems which was extremely satisfying for us.
“We hope to double the volume this year going into Asia.”
She said the airfreight business was about finding flight connections that made sense logistically and financially, but the next task was to send fruit by seafreight.
Chile’s success in this arena has been an inspiration for the Polish industry and Malkiewicz hopes her industry can emulate the South American country’s achievements in long-haul exports.
“It takes approximately 30 days which is do-able – I think we would be the first ones to so we’re eager to start this year,” she said.
“The Chileans do it in an amazing way, so we would like to do something similar – send our fruit to as many places as we can, and we are quite confident after this season that it can be done,” she said, adding the Middle Eastern market was appealing.
The executive added it had been extremely satisfying to receive calls from Polish embassies in Southeast Asia, congratulating her for breaking new ground.
"We had amazing feedback from Asia. I had phone calls from Polish embassies in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore because they saw the Polish label on blueberries, and got extremely excited. They said they’d never tasted such tasty and large blueberries.
“It was a bit of a surprise when I was in the packhouse and someone was calling from Kuala Lumpur trying to find me.”
Earlier, more durable varieties
Polskie Jagody board member Jarek Bien said the company was changing its blueberry varieties to adapt to market conditions, with a great deal of production under tunnels to cope with potential for heavy frosts in winter and high temperatures in summer.
“Obviously it’s not easy to change as they’re in soil – it’s not only about buying plants; it’s about first removing the plants, preparing the field, thinking about what your market is,” he said.
“We are now actually replacing some plants with new varieties – processing varieties will be replaced with varieties for the fresh market, and they will be replaced with early varieties because that’s where we see we’ve got not enough production on our farms.”
He said the varieties had to be firm while maintaining their flavor.
“We are looking into the market thinking about what else we could do – we will trial some Huron this year. It is already known in the Netherlands.
“No one has planted enough in the Polish climate to tell us whether it’s good or not. We wouldn’t plant a hectare or two because it’s too risky, so this year will be a few hundred plants and we’ll see how they go in the summer, so we’ll have some idea.
“Also, with Aurora we always thought it would be brilliant. And it is, but without covers you struggle to pick it, and because we don’t have enough sunshine already in mid-September, so you have to use covers.