Mexican strawberries well positioned in the U.S. market
Mexican strawberry exports increased by 9% in 2022, making them one of the most exported berries in the country. From 2017 to 2021, Mexico produced, on average, 655,000 tons of strawberries.
The main producing regions in the country are Michoacán, Guanajuato, Baja California, Mexico and Baja California Sur with approximately 98% of all production volume.
The warm weather of these strawberry-producing regions, which have cultivation traditions since the early 20th century, helps the flavor and sweetness, with soils rich in organic matter.
Main export players
Naturberry, founded in 2012, is one of the leading companies in the Mexican strawberry sector and a subsidiary of the North American company Naturipe Berry Growers, part of the Naturipe Farms group.
José Luis Bustamante, the general manager, who is also President of ANEBERRIES (the National Association of Producers and Exporters of Berries of Mexico), spoke with FreshFruitPortal about the production of the fruit and its commercialization in the North American market.
"In the case of strawberries, Mexico is a winter player. In 2012 we started to do operations directly, we had done something before through Hortifrut, some exports of strawberries from Michoacán, but in October 2012, Naturipe Berry Growers founded Naturberry.
Naturberry starts operations in 2012, with very few boxes in the 2012-2013 campaign, we made around 150,000 boxes, and from there we started to grow. It was just the finance director, Jaime Almaguer, and myself, just the two of us, and we started to grow," said Bustamante.
At the beginning, the company only had operations in Zamora (Michoacán), an in ten years grew from two workers to eighteen workers, and from producing only 150,000 boxes to 3 million 4kg boxes of strawberries during the last season.
"Naturberry is in charge of strawberries. There is an agreement whereby Hortifrut, handles raspberry, blackberry, and blueberry, in Mexico.
"We handle the strawberries and they handle the other three berries. And we all market under the same brand, the Naturipe, through Naturipe Farms in the United States and other markets," he added.
Naturberry is also an importer of strawberries from California to Mexico during the winter months, between June and September.
The company imports around 500,000 boxes of strawberries during that time of the year.
With their national program, they also supply the local market with some of the production that they don’t export.
Of the 3 million boxes that Naturberry is exporting to the U.S., between 200 and 250 thousand contain organic strawberries.
Bustamante indicated that organic strawberry is always in demand and that organic strawberries can cost up to 50% more than conventional.
"Organic strawberry is more profitable as long as it is more productive. The biggest challenges are soil diseases and fertilization because organic fertilization is very expensive and greatly reduces yields.
Now what is growing a lot, from what we are seeing, are the production systems in the organic strawberry substrate, because we start from an inert substrate that does not have soil diseases, and we can be more precise in organic fertilization. Organic fertilizers are more expensive than conventional fertilizers, so I believe that the cost-benefit ratio will grow within this system. Since organic fruit is sold at a higher price, good productivity pays the investment,” said Bustamante.
Main trading markets
The main markets are the United States and Canada, and their production in California complements Mexico’s off-season. American supermarkets want the same quality and service of strawberries throughout the entire year. During winter, Mexican strawberries supply U.S. supermarkets.
“Ninety-eight percent of our exports go to the United States, but we also have shipments to the Far East, specifically to Hong Kong, and also to Dubai, Abu Dhabi,” said Bustamante.
“As for the domestic market, we want the Mexican population to increase their consumption of strawberries and they are already beginning to do so. And in relation to Europe, I see the market for strawberries increasingly difficult, because there is more and more local strawberry production - the area of southern Spain has grown a lot, northern Morocco too, and then we have greenhouse production in Belgium and Holland, which is extraordinary," added Bustamante.
He considers it relevant for Mexico to import technology from Europe, such as irrigation systems and greenhouse systems.