05 May 2023

Blueberry, quality at the center for the Global Players speakers at Macfrut

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blueberry colored Macfrut blue, the fruit and vegetable fair that filled the halls of Rimini Fiera with visitors for three days.

The second day of International Blueberry Days featured the Global Players, represented by the primary companies in the major international production and marketing areas. Globally, blueberry has several strengths that support its positive outlook: production and consumption trends, product availability 52 weeks of the year, packaging and marketing innovation to bring new buying opportunities and premium product lines to the consumer.

Justin Mudge of Chiltern Farms outlined the challenges faced by blueberry producers in South Africa: after growth that brought average production over the last three years above 3,000 hectares and exports to 24.000 tons in 2022, the sector is experiencing intense pressure on costs and prices: while prices have dropped 23 percent between 2020 and 2021, costs have seen a 51 percent surge, with a loss of profitability that is causing the entire sector to reconsider the sustainability of its future, which is based on quality production and a nearly 100-year history of fruit and vegetable exports.

According to Mudge, "everyone involved in the supply chain needs to be clear about what the ideal blueberry looks like: regular and uniform shape and size, pleasant and distinctive flavor and aroma, texture and crispness, guaranteed wholesomeness, presence of bloom and a typical color. Health aspects, although they have been instrumental in launching blueberries to the podium of consumer preferences, are no longer sufficient to ensure full buyer satisfaction."

Consumer expectations must also harmonize with production needs. Justin Mudge reiterated that "we producers are looking for genetics that ensure high productivity, uniform ripening, concentrated harvesting, mechanical harvesting capability and optimal production schedule."

John Early of Agrovision (Peru) presented Peruvian production estimates: in the past five years, the South American country's production has increased from 43,000 tons in 2016 to 277,000 tons in 2022 and is on track to double in the next five years. According to Early, Peru is particularly developing Asian markets, with China leading the way: more than 1,400 containers were sent in 2022 by the top three exporters alone.

The issue of varietal renewal is affecting both Peru and Chile, which is redesigning its production and export strategies for blueberry to meet the new challenges. Frusan's Orieta Ramirez identified the main critical issues as "logistics, labor shortages, climate change, genetic improvement; added to this are new producing countries that are rapidly eroding the global market share of Chile's blueberry , including mainly Peru and Mexico, but also Morocco and China, and which are pushing Chile toward new diversification strategies." Export quantities of fresh Chilean blueberry are expected to decline by 20 percent in the upcoming 2022/23 season, from 110,000 tons to 87,000 thousand tons.

The U.S. market was illustrated by Nader Musleh of California Giant Berry Farms: with 45 percent penetration and sales of nearly $2 billion, blueberry is the seventh most popular fruit among Americans: in fact, 41 percent of consumers cite it as their favorite fruit.

Dominika Kozarzewska outlined the results of the berries promotion campaign that is affecting Poland, where the entire supply chain has come together to communicate the benefits of berries to consumers. Poland, which has been producing blueberries for nearly fifty years, has seen imports grow at a faster rate than production and exports, making it one of the most dynamic markets in Europe. In fact, purchases from abroad have risen from 9910 tons in 2020 to 14250 tons in 2021, an increase of 44%, and now four out of five Polish households buy blueberries during the year.

Global Players, global players in the blue fruit supply chain, however, agree that development will only be sustainable if it is based on quality, a goal toward which all players are working-from breeders to develop new varieties to the entire production, marketing, and distribution chain. Consumers around the world continue to show their passion for blueberry and it is up to the industry to prove that it is possible to bring blueberry to the table for 52 weeks that lives up to expectations of taste, crispness, visual appearance and healthiness.

According to Thomas Drahorad, co-organizer of International Blueberry Days, "Macfrut thus confirms itself again for blueberry as a laboratory of knowledge, innovation and development engine to support a rapidly expanding sector globally."

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