Spanish berry exports down in 2020 amid lower demand

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Spanish berry exports down in 2020 amid lower demand

Spain's berry exports saw a downturn of 6% during the first five months of the year, according to an industry representative.

While there is yet to be an official report of how berries are performing in the European market, CEO of industry body Freshuelva, Rafael Domínguez, told that the industry has exported thus far that 253,595 metric tons (MT) of berries.

Strawberries were down 3%, raspberries were 20% lower, and blueberries saw a 7% dip.

Principal markets for Spain's berries have continued to be Germany, France and the U.K.

Covid-19 and the Spanish blueberry campaign

"The most important moment for the berry campaign is focused on the months of April for strawberries, May for blueberries and raspberries and those were the worst months for the pandemic in our country," Domínguez said.

Despite the timing of things, Huelva has been working constantly to protect workers in the Spanish berry industry from Covid-19, he said.

"We have only registered two positive, isolated cases among more than 80,000 workers that have been coming into work every day, nonstop," he explained.

One of the greatest challenges the sector has faced has been the dip in available labor. 

"The closing of the Morrocan border meant that nearly 13,000 laborers were unable to make it to the workplace, as they were contract workers. The problem of worker movement has impacted the entirety of European countries and workers from all European countries," he detailed.

He said that "what this has created in the current season is that we've had to continue moving forward with fewer workers and that has come along with lower demand".

Speaking on the impact the pandemic has had on marketing strategies, Domínguez said that they are focusing on impulse buys for berries, something that has "fallen in a lot of cases as a consequence of being in quarantine".

"There hasn't been a big push for everyday purchases of berries," he said.

On weather-related challenges, he said that the industry "has also been in difficulty with intense rains throughout this season that hasn't matched up with usual springtime climate. Fortunately, they haven't been too serious and haven't had too large of an impact on the season".

For the next season, the main challenge Spanish berries will face will be "knowing the situation" that the industry is going to face in fall and winter months.

"The main challenge is the labor shortage and finding workers available to pick the berries with such uncertainty that this has caused and the restrictions in Morocco. This has created a big setback and caused 7,100 workers to return to their countries that would have otherwise worked throughout the season," he said.

Domínguez said it's unclear what steps to take, but when it comes to foreign contracted work, there needs to be a need understanding made between Freshuelva and migration services to negotiate with countries to contract labor.

"This is the case for countries like Moldavia and Balkan countries, or South American countries. However, everything will depend upon the situation and the potential steps in movement for those workers that we're able to find," he concluded.

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