Chile: Blueberry industry focusing on varietal reconversion amid another production drop

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Chile: Blueberry industry focusing on varietal reconversion amid another production drop

It's been a challenging few years for the Chilean blueberry industry, with production volumes falling 18%, and an additional drop of 13% projected for this season, challenged mainly by growing competition and higher quality in the sector. 

The technical manager of the Chilean Blueberry Committee, Julia Pinto, made an in-depth analysis of the industry, indicating that there are approximately 617,00 acres of blueberries worldwide, compared to 185,000 12 years ago, which has generated a change in the global industry.

Pinto adds that the Committee’s objective today is to increase the quality of Chilean fruit because other source countries like Mexico and Peru are producing new high-quality varieties with big sizes. 

"In terms of production, we have 1.86 million tons of blueberries worldwide. So there are many millions of kilos to be consumed and we have to put them on the market," she says. 

Strategies for the global blueberry industry's success

Pinto notes that the industry is seeking greater efficiency and productivity with varietal replacement and growth in lower-cost regions. 

"Varietal replacement is what we are focused on now," she says. 

She emphasizes that the quality standards, given by the new genetics, are aimed at improving firmness, flavor, caliber and shelf life. 

"Improving quality is key to demand growth. In addition, we have to have varieties that are resistant to extreme weather events,” she says.

U.S. market demands

With new varieties, consumers are demanding higher quality blueberries from all sources, which for Chile means competing with countries that are more advanced in this regard.

“The main consumer is the United States and it has become accustomed to something new, today it knows another offer besides what they produce themselves," says Pinto. 

Looking back, she pointed out that in 2015-16 Chile had a 65% market share and today it is down to 16%. 

“Peru, which is our main competitor, went from 9% to 51% today. Mexico has greatly affected Chile's late production, especially in the U.S. market, and Morocco's product affects us in Europe."

Pinto indicates that the main market for Chilean blueberries has always been the United States with more than 50% of the volume and this year it may grow a little.

Currently, the main varieties exported by Chile are Legacy and Duke, which are traditional varieties that are still performing well in the market. 

"Of the 87 million kilos that Chile produces, new varieties represent 14 million, or 16%,." says Pinto.

Chile’s blueberry export season runs from November to March.

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