25 Feb 2022

More quality is needed to continue blueberry's ascent

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A superfood in every sense of the word, blueberry has conquered supermarket shelves in recent years and has become indispensable in production regions around the world. In its report 'Consistent quality is the new blue', Rabobank examines the status quo of the berries market and sheds light on the strategies that will enable the blueberries sector to continue to grow robustly in the future.

By 2020, the area under cultivation exceeded 205,000 hectares - and the trend is increasing. Most of this area is currently still in North and South America, but the Asia-Pacific region is also catching up fast. Export volumes could reach almost 900,000 tonnes by 2025/26, the report estimates, with 70% of this coming from the main exporting countries, which include Peru and Chile, Canada and Mexico, as well as Spain and Morocco. The top growing countries differ slightly from this list: Peru remains in first place in terms of production, but is followed by the United States. Chile is in third place, followed by China and Mexico.

TheUnited States and Canada are world leaders in the consumption of blueberries, with imports increasing by 180% and domestic production by 52% over the last decade. Increasingly longer seasons have contributed to the year-round availability of blueberries in North America. Going forward, volumes in the US are expected to continue to grow. For comparison: in 2005, consumption was 230 g per capita, has increased by about 10% in ten years and will grow to as much as 1.5 kg in 2026.

FROM NORTH AMERICA TO THE WHOLE WORLD

The structure of the market is changing. It is observedthat demand is moving away from North America as the centre and spreading to several main drivers around the world. In Europe, for example, demand is currently growing faster, while in Asia, China is driving consumption. Imports of blueberries from Peru have increased by 25% and are expected to supply August to April in the future.

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At the same time, however, the supply of Chinese product for the same period is increasing, so Peru must expect more competition. Chile, on the other hand, imported 45% less goods to China, as the US market received more deliveries with more attractive prices up to +33%. But back to Europe: in the 2020/2021 season, large imports from Peru led to low prices on the Rotterdam wholesale market. In addition, there were delays in logistics and inconsistent quality of Chilean goods. This led to weeks of oversupply, which affected the price for a long time. In the coming years, import volumes are expected to increase, but also local production in Europe is expected to grow, so that the transition between seasons can be shorter and more relaxed. Healthy growth is expected in both the EU and the UK.

SOUTH AMERICA ON THE RISE

Peru remains number one for both cultivation and exports heading into the 2019/20 season - although political uncertainty and supply challenges have slowed growth. The largest volumes are currently shipped from September to November, but Peru is expanding production times to be able to offer fresh produce year-round in the future. Rabobank sees the advantage for Peruvian producers in the rapid development of new varieties on the one hand, and on the other hand in the favourable weather, which allows production at times that are rewarded with higher prices in the market. In 2020/21, almost 53% of Peru's blueberries were exported to the United States. In the 2021/22 season, the country also wants to double exports to China. However, strong domestic growth is expected: In the last five years, Chinese production of blueberries has increased by 48%. With greater domestic availability of fresh produce, increasing pressure on importing countries such as Peru and Chile is to be expected.

Chile is the second largest exporter of blueberries after Peru. In recent years, the cultivated area has increased slightly and varietal renewals are taking place, which improves the productivity and quality of Chilean supplies. Production growth is therefore expected from Chile, although to a lesser extent than in Peru. Both countries have duty-free access to markets in China, Europe and the United States, while South Africa, Mexico and other northern hemisphere countries pay high tariffs to China. 

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Size is also a factor in quality for the blueberries

This, combined with current logistics costs, is currently limiting market diversification for some growth countries, the report notes.

JOINT COMMITMENT TO PERMANENT HIGH QUALITY

Supply is growing along with global demand. After outlining the current market situation, Rabobank then names the strategies with which he believes blueberries will continue to ride the wave of success in the future. The market has so far been rather fragmented, so strategic partnerships, mergers between manufacturers and generally more communication between all parties involved must be sought. Within companies, it is important to employ well-trained workers at all levels. Investment should also be made in new technologies and genetic developments:

On the one hand, the newly developed varieties attract customers and traders because of the taste and shelf life of berries, but on the other hand, they also help producers to achieve greater efficiency, better yields or the possibility of mechanical harvesting, which will provide a decisive competitive advantage in the future. Innovations in packaging are also urgently needed due to raw material shortages on the one hand and new legislation on the other.

Once packaged, logistics is the next important piece. Sharply rising transport costs and a lack of containers have presented manufacturers with major challenges in 2021, and the situation will not simply disappear into thin air in 2022 either.

Consistent quality, even if origin and destination markets are far apart or delays occur, remains the key to success. Shortening transit times and technologies to extend shelf life are therefore essential. Manufacturers can expand their product ranges to become more attractive to the trade - either through partnerships or by expanding their own portfolios.

In addition to fresh produce, the range of processed berries is growing, for example for juices, concentrates and dried fruits. Chinese growers have already started to develop varieties especially for processing.

The report also sees scope for optimising consumer contact. blueberries are already very suitable for snacking because of their size, but the health benefits of berries could be further emphasised with targeted marketing campaigns or imprints on the packaging. Especially in new systems such as the Nutri-Score, blueberries have very good ratings.

Organic products are also set to grow; their share will reach around 20-30% of the total market, although in some markets, such as China, there is currently no real demand for organic products.

Besides organic products, local cultivation could also be a selling point. Regional and seasonal products can become a purchasing argument for consumers and should therefore be explicitly identified. And especially in markets with a high export share, the domestic market also offers great potential. In Chile, for example, the annual consumption of blueberries is only about 116 g, while more than 6 kg of other fruits are consumed. In summary, it can be said that the market for blueberries is far from saturated.

However, the basic prerequisite for further growth is reliable high quality, which must be guaranteed from cultivation to sale along the value chain in order to inspire consumers worldwide for the superfood in the long term.

Source: Fruchthandel
Fruchthandel is part of the NCX Media network

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