22 Mar 2024

Drivers of global development at Nova Siri Genetics conference

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What are the drivers behind the development of the berries sector? This was the theme of the report presented by Thomas Drahorad at the conference organized by Nova Siri Genetics on March 21, 2024. The report is available for download for Italian Berry readers. In this interview, we review with the speaker the main topics analyzed during the event.

What are the current dimensions of the berries phenomenon, one of the fastest-growing categories in the fruit and vegetable department?

Let's start with strawberries, which in Italy represent a sector worth 81,000 tons for fresh produce, with a value of 389 million euros in household spending.

How is the strawberry sector evolving?

The development of this sector is primarily driven by the activity of numerous breeding programs, which, by their nature, must have a long-term vision to anticipate market dynamics. These programs are increasingly private, as funds from public programs often are not sufficient to cover the significant investments required.

What signals is the market giving regarding its future evolution?

In reality, we need to take a step back because, more than from the market, the recent development of new strawberry varieties is influenced primarily by three external factors: climate trends, limitations on treatments imposed by recent EU regulations, and assisted evolution technologies. These external factors represent strong constraints that the sector's development is grappling with, actually as opportunities as well. Consider in this regard the new genomic editing techniques, which have significant implications not only technically but also economically and competitively.

Once the rules of the game are established, how are the guidelines for varietal development taking shape?

Breeders are interpreting projected market trends and transforming them into objectives: currently, resilience, adaptation to various cultivation techniques, fruit consistency and shelf life, taste, and quality prevail. All this in a context where consumers are increasingly aware and demanding.

In terms of market performance, the star of recent years has been blueberries, which globally have seen almost unique development rates in the category.

Indeed, blueberries are the second most important product in the assortment of berries in Italy: Italian families purchased 9,000 tons in 2023, amounting to 122 million euros.

How did this now-global passion for blueberries come about?

Blueberry breeding has a fascinating history: it began in the early years of the last century thanks to the passion of an American researcher and a wild blueberry producer who together selected numerous "modern" varieties, initiating intense breeding activity that now includes numerous private breeding programs globally, in addition to US universities. In fact, lately, the major results have come from private breeding programs.

How has the sector evolved?

The global blueberry sector has transitioned from a phase where the focus was primarily on quantitative development to meet growing demand, to a second phase, which we can say began in 2021, where the entire supply chain began to focus on quality and value creation.

What is now meant by quality and value for blueberries?

From the consumer's perspective, the main drivers highlighted that influence varietal development are flavor, taste, crispness, firmness, size, presentation uniformity, and the product's healthiness.

What are the production needs regarding new blueberry varieties?

The production chain requires breeders to develop new varieties with high yield, ease of harvesting, suitability for mechanical harvesting, and with ripening as concentrated as possible.

As market penetration increases, consumer demands also increase, becoming more diversified and more oriented towards meeting specific needs. Hence the need to segment the market based on consumer preferences, creating different product lines that meet various customer demands. In the most advanced markets, blueberries are now offered on the supermarket shelf not only as a standard product for everyone. In fact, consumers can potentially find a discounted product next to a premium one, a standard one alongside one characterized by local origin, and even products for those interested in organic and zero-residue options. So, on offer, one can now find a blueberry for every budget, every taste, and every expectation of an evolved and aware consumer.


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