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OVERVIEW GLOBAL BLUEBERRY MARKETThanks to the early end of the European season, South Africa was able to increase its exports to the continent. This was a necessity, as production in the country has risen sharply, which puts pressure on prices. In Europe, the trade is currently focused on Argentinian blueberries, but there are concerns about the quality of the Peruvian. That is not the case among US importers, who saw an increase in the volume coming from Peru. Argentina is having a good season and reports higher export figures.
South Africa sees volume rising sharply
The harvest kicked off in June. Growers aim to fill the gap in the market between week 37 and week 47, so exports will continue. Total production for the 2017/2018 season is 10,000 to 11,000 tonnes, which is a substantial growth compared to the 5,869 tonnes harvested in the 2016/2017 campaign. Exports reached 4.154 tonnes last year, and this season's prospect is to reach 8,000 tonnes.
Growers point out that the larger volume also clearly puts pressure on prices. Although official figures point to next year's acreage remaining stable at 1,598 hectares, some experts say that there are already over 2,000 hectares. The new plantations are mainly to be found in the north of the country, where the berries can be grown thanks to the low chill varieties. Traditionally, the crops can be found in the south and west of the Cape region.
The majority of exports are intended for the United Kingdom, which accounts for about 60% of all exports. The EU follows with 30% of the exports. Africa (6%), Asia (3%) and the Middle East (1%) are smaller markets. Thanks to the end of the European season, there has been a good demand for the berries.
Argentinian blueberry exports on the rise
Argentinian blueberry exports have increased by 35% in the period up to week 40 compared to the same period a year earlier. The country exported 4,234 tonnes of the berries, compared to 3,111 tonnes in 2016.
The growth has been recorded in both air freight and sea freight. In the former category, the volume has grown from 2,849 tonnes to 3,383 tonnes; an 18% rise. For sea freight, the growth rate is 213%, with an increase of 272 tonnes to 851 tonnes. "As growers, we have made a better planning and have consequently had a better season," affirms a producer. Given the situation in the previous year, the sector got ready this season introducing several changes in production, logistics and trade. For instance, more attention has been paid to sea freight than to air freight.
Exporters see good opportunities for this season, taking into account the situation in neighbouring countries. "In recent weeks, Peru has been exporting more to the US, even though they previously preferred shipping to China," explains an exporter. Chile seems to be lagging behind the estimates. "That is very important, because we are optimistic about the prices for weeks 48, 49 and 50."
US: Peru demands greater market share
With the end of the domestic season, the market switches to imports from South America and Mexico. At present, according to a trader, the supply is coming mainly from Argentina and Peru and, to a lesser extent, from Mexico. The volumes from Peru and Chile are expected to continue increasing in the coming weeks. "In general terms, larger volumes are coming from South America as a whole," states a trader. He reports that both Argentina and Peru expect to grow by 20% this season.
Peru appears to be ready to play a more dominant role in the US market. The country can take advantage of the gap usually left between the Argentinian and Chilean seasons in December. In those weeks, Peru will ship greater volumes, according to the expectations of an importer.
The demand for the berries is good and therefore prices are slightly higher than last year. The lower limit is around $ 20 FOB, but can rise to $ 30. A trader affirms that with Thanksgiving and the holidays in December around the corner, the demand for blueberries will likely increase.
Dutch trade pleased with imported fruit
The season in Northern Europe has come to an end. There are some small European volumes in circulation, especially from Poland, but qualitatively, an importer described them as "mega bad" and said that "they don't belong in the market anymore."
The supply now comes from South Africa, Argentina, Peru and a little from Uruguay. Last week, prices were very high, but they have plunged this week. "It's a strange situation, because there's actually a shortage," said a trader. The one "to blame" for the lower prices is Peru. This importer claims that "those berries are not good." In the past, retailers actually bought all blueberries that were available, but that is no longer the case. Consumers know what they want in blueberries and do not accept bad quality anymore.
The season in Argentina kicked off in week 37. "There is one variety whose quality has been disappointing, but for the rest, it is good. Everything that has been shipped is good," he summarises. Peru started with the air cargo, but in the meantime, the containers also came in. "The quality of the Peruvian product is terrible; the berries are soft and tasteless," assures the importer. "It's really a problem; everyone's talking about it and there's turmoil in the market. In this regard, the Argentinians are doing better."
The first air shipment from Uruguay arrived in week 40. These are small volumes, but there are also some containers on the way. "In terms of taste, they match Argentina and I haven't detected any major issues," the importer explains. The South African season started in week 37/38, coinciding with high prices and "a perfect product." Prices are still higher than for the South American product.
Germany: Demand for overseas trade is growing
In the German Federal Republic, overseas blueberries are currently the most sold. These batches come mainly from South America, especially Argentina and Peru. The price of these berries oscillates between 12 and 14 Euro per kilo, compared to the 8 to 10 Euro per kilo paid for European blueberries. Traders point out that the demand is currently satisfactory, at an average level compared to the past few years. In comparison with the summer season, the demand for blueberries seems to have decreased somewhat amongst German consumers.
Huge demand in spite of high prices in Israel
The high blueberry prices have not been a deterrent for Israeli consumers. Sales have increased sharply in the last three years. The price can reach up to 25 Euro per kilo, while the average price fluctuates around 20 Euro per kilo. Meanwhile, imported frozen blueberries are sold for 10 Euro per kilo. And while the demand for frozen berries is high, consumers prefer the fresh ones.
The major price differential with other countries is mainly due to the combination of a growing demand and an insufficient domestic production. Only a few regions in Israel are suitable for the cultivation of berries, such as the north of the country, where the higher altitude allows for cooler temperatures and there is a lower chance of heat waves. Much has been invested in the development of varieties that are suitable for the country's climate, but those studies are still underway and won't change anything in the next five years.
The introduction of new growing techniques is another interesting option for producers to increase their production; for example, cultivation on substrates in controlled climate areas. According to a grower at Golan, this will be done in the near future. In this regard, he mentions how, in the case of strawberries, it has been possible to start cultivating them in greenhouses and thereby increase their production.
Australian market remains good
While the cultivation areas in the south won't start harvesting until December, the northern production areas have been on the market since June. Then the season kicks off in Queensland and the north of New South Wales. Despite the rainfall of recent weeks, there is a good market for the fruit. Traders report that blueberries have been one of the most popular products in recent months.
According to figures from the Australian Blueberry Growers Association, 4,500 tonnes of blueberries are grown annually. Of this, 75% is marketed for fresh consumption on the domestic market, while another 15% is exported to Asia and Europe and 10% goes to the processing industry. Production is expanding rapidly and growers are keeping their eyes and ears open in order to find new markets. In late 2015, Australian berries gained access to the Indian market.
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