Opinion: How has the blueberry market changed over recent years?
By Ignacio Santibañez, General Manager of QIMA Produce in Latin America and Europe
The blueberry market has seen a lot of movement in recent years. This may be due to various factors such as changes in supply and demand, new varieties and delays in the supply chain caused by the pandemic, among many other things.
Because of this, we are going to summarize how niche blueberry production has developed through the challenges mentioned above. We will also see countries' ranking and the different forms of production used as a result of the rapid changes in the global supply of blueberries.
It's been known for some time that Chile has become a pioneer in blueberry production, however, Peru has since taken the lead.
This is due to the development of its fields, improvements in post-harvest management and, above all, large investments in megaprojects that have strengthened production. The country also boasts high-quality standards and exports the fruit to more than 24 countries with expansion to China, India and Taiwan in view.
On the other hand, although the leading spot is being disputed between Chile and Peru, we cannot forget the fact that Mexico produces blueberries as well, and that it is positioned as the third-largest producer worldwide.
The country has agrological zones and climates that favor cultivation in Jalisco, along with the fact that exports go to the U.S. and other countries including Japan, China, Singapore and the Netherlands among others.
Challenges the blueberry market faced and continue to face in 2020-21
During this season, there were several situations that the blueberry-exporting countries had to face, such as being able to distinguish quality problems linked mostly to firmness and logistics.
- Quality issues: Countries like Chile and Peru had some quality problems as the blueberries didn't have the firmness to satisfy retailers and importers, who are more demanding every year in order to meet consumer expectations. The consumers in turn are increasingly knowledgeable, eager for firm blueberries with good texture and flavor. Also, some producers reported rotting, fungi or dehydration caused mostly by climatic changes such as rises in temperature or rains in full harvest, logistics and complications in the availability of labor during harvest. This is a situation that both countries strategically solved to rebound in the season's productions and continue to remain positioned as leaders in the industry.
- Logistics: Due to the pandemic and countries' restrictions to safeguard biosafety, the logistics issue was a challenge that delayed shipments and receptions, but nevertheless, in the midst of the pandemic, agreements were reached that allowed exports and imports without major setbacks.
Although the season was challenging, opportunities are more plentiful than ever as the demand for blueberries continues to grow thanks to global knowledge of its flavor, versatility and the positive impact it has on health.
Every year consumers are more informed, therefore the challenge is clear: provide volumes capable of satisfying demand, but without neglecting both the quality and the condition of the fruit and with a special focus on firmness.
Key points where to focus improvement efforts
- International logistics: We continue to see delays not only when the fruit is in transit but also when the ship arrives at the port and the container is finally released, adding up to 72 hours on the fruit, including isolated cases with the containers unplugged.
- New varieties: We hope that the industry will continue making efforts to diversify and renew the genetic material, as importers and retailers are being increasingly selective when choosing which varieties their suppliers will be exporting, this is definitely a trend that will not change.
- Taking care of the cold chain: Not only in pre-shipment but also once the fruit has been unloaded at the different destinations. From the moment the fruit leaves the packing at origin until it is positioned on the shelves of the markets at the destination, the cold chain must be taken care of. If it breaks at any stage of the process, even at the end, it can create large losses due to the sensitivity of the fruit.
- Greater harvest supervision and quality control in the field: The industry must bring its efforts in terms of quality and selection as close as possible to the field. It is not the same to harvest certain varieties in the morning as at midday, as well as, if correct quality control is carried out on the fruit during harvesting, the quality of the raw material can be greatly improved, reducing discarding while saving time and money in packaging work.
To conclude, we end by encouraging producers and retailers to closely follow the trends mentioned in this article, in addition to taking into account the market movement and the points that must be ensured to get the best results in the 2020-21 season. The best results in terms of the quality of blueberries are being increasingly valued by end consumers every day thanks to the health-positive contributions that science continues to discover.