Chilean blueberries fetched lower prices in 2018-19 amid increasing market overlap

March 29 , 2019

The Chilean blueberry export campaign is now coming to an end, finishing up on very similar volumes to last year but having experienced lower prices in the U.S. and Europe.

Exports by week 1 were registered at 110,794 metric tons (MT) compared to 110,027MT last year, according to figures from the Chilean Blueberry Committee.

However, prices have generally been lower than last season, according to figures provided by market intelligence company Decofrut. The data shows that the FOT prices (paid to the importer) were 23% lower year-on-year from week 48 through week 9 in the U.S., while in  Europe there were 14% down over the same period.

Meanwhile, in Asia the average FOT prices were 1% higher year-on-year.

Rodrigo Durán, commercial manager of exporter David del Curto, said the lower prices were partly due to condition problems with some fruit resulting from rains and hail in certain areas followed by high temperatures.

There were also rains southward from Chillán during the harvest period, he said.

“There are areas with different climatic impacts, but in general the Chilean product, for that reason, was inconsistent,” he explained.

He added that the industry is still learning how to manage newer varieties.

“We have been changing the old varieties for new ones, and therefore, in theory, there will be improvements in quality and condition.”

Another important factor this season was the increase in volumes from Peru, which were present in the market when Chile began exporting its early varieties.

“That obviously also impacted the average prices for the early part of the season,” he said. “Chile ramped up in November because Peru was already winding down, but there was still overlap between the two countries in the shipments that month.”

In addition, while Chile has not previously had overlap issues with competitors in the later stages of its campaign, now Morocco, Spain and Mexico are supplying increasing volumes during that time, he said.

“The Chilean window is narrower and with a lower average price level, and it will be that way for a long time,” he said.

“The plantations in Peru are only just coming into production, and Morocco, Spain and South Africa continue to plant. There is a lot more competition nowadays as well, many more countries are participating in the market.”

Durán added that Chile’s season in the U.S. in particular was characterized by lower prices this season, which he attributed in part to the country requirement that Chilean blueberries be fumigated, during which time the cold chain is broken, thus affecting the quality and condition.

Sebastian Carmona, general manager of CarSol, said Chile experienced heavy pressure and stable prices in the U.S., added that the prices did not rebound at the end of the season as had been expected.

“Even when Peru’s season naturally winded down in November, the fact that both Mexico and Peru were present – with lower volumes – almost throughout the entire Chilean campaign in the U.S., makes the market’s quality requirements for Chilean fruit much higher,” he said.

Asked how he had been affected by the heavy rainfall and hail in mid-November last year, Carmona said there had been minimal impacts on his farm but noted that at the time of packing the fruit the proportion of export-eligible fruit was lower than anticipated.

On the European market, Durán said that prices were lower this season as many exporters had diverted shipments there from the U.S., creating an oversupply.

“Chile sent 30% more to Europe this year, trying to avoid the U.S.,” he said.

Carmona summed up that it was a “complicated” season, with prices in Europe and Asia in line with expectations, but lower than anticipated in the U.S.

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