Global Berry Congress 2015

Retail revenue soft fruit in US bigger than bananas or apples

Soft fruit is a growing market. In addition to strawberries, blueberries have been performing well for years, but raspberries and other berries are also becoming more popular. During the sixth Global Berry Congress, which was held in the Mainport hotel in the centre of Rotterdam yesterday, the challenges to the sector and the soft fruit segment in particular took centre stage. Can brand names increase revenues? Are growers prepared to grow a specific variety if that variety is marketed as a brand? And isn’t there a threat of soft fruit becoming too much of a ‘commodity’?

left to right: Chris White, Robert Verloop and Mike Knowles opened the sixth Global Berry Congress.

Robert Verloop of Naturipe opened the day with a brief outline of the challenges the soft fruit sector is facing. Although the danger is looming that berries will become a commodity due to the impetuous growth in the sector, players can distinguish themselves, for instance through packaging.

Next to the congress, there was room for companies to present themselves, such as this Italian producer of measuring equipment for factors like the hardness of fruit.

Next to a stand, Mauro Stipa of Ilip talked about their efforts for sustainable packaging during the congress.

More revenue soft fruit than bananas or apples
In the United States, around 6 million dollars’ worth of soft fruit is sold, which is about 19% of total revenues in supermarkets. With these figures, berries have surpassed the traditionally popular products, like bananas and apples. Apples account for about 14% of revenue, bananas 11%. “The health argument brings the consumer to the berries, but the taste makes sure the consumer comes back."

There is also an increasing presence of blueberries in particular on restaurant menus. And not just in the more upmarket restaurants, the fast-food chains are also including the berry on their menus increasingly more often.

left to right: Hans Berden, Edwin Droogendijk and Jacques Luteijn of SunBerry, Growers Packers Direct.

The originally Japanese Nippon ANCI SAS tries to conquer the European market with a screen cover. The cover lowers the greenhouse temperature and dims the sunlight.

Piotr Milewski, of Weco. The sorting machine manufacturers were well represented in Rotterdam.

Calm before the storm. At the beginning of lunch break, the famous paper cones, filled with soft fruit, are ready at the Driscoll’s stand. The fruit was very popular with congress visitors.

Newcomer Peru
The most important ‘newcomer’ on the blueberry market is Peru, where significant investments are being made in the berry’s cultivation. Robert explains that the sandy soil in Peru keeps the cultivation clean, and that the climate is excellently suited to this berry. “The country has a stable temperature and humidity, it’s like a greenhouse. That means production can develop fast.”

McArlaids, producer of absorbent pads in packaging, was present with a stand. The latest developments regarding the pads were discussed by Filip Tintchev during the third session of the congress.

The Special Fruit stand. Upper left: Ben Maes, Werner Hack (Rapo) and Johan Verberck. Upper right: Patrick Maes, Wout Roovers, Ben Maes and Piet Meerkerk. Lower right: the new strawberry variety, now still only known as FF-1201, should be available in large volumes at the end of this year. Lower left: Sara Hellemans lets visitors taste the new strawberries.

The Tomra sorting machines were also popular.

Sismatec put the Pro Seal packaging machine in the spotlight. Under this name, various machines are available. And of course the resealable packaging that was introduced last year, could also be found at the stand.

Legro, supplier of substrates for cultivation of soft fruit and other crops, presented the various types of soil that can be used.

Philipp Morandell, of Italian TopControl, presented software that can be used to measure productivity of pickers and packers. The system registers how much is being picked or packed, and, for the packers, the weight deviation of the packagings.

Clarissa Masinara and Giovanni Seganti man the Unitec stand. In the afternoon, Raffaele Benedetti would give an explanation of the Italian firm’s sorting machine.

Italian packaging manufacturer Infia supplies various packagings.

Robert also sees real challenges. For instance, bigger packagings are needed, and size sorting in berries can help the sector advance. Sustainability also remains a recurring theme, just like the increase in organic cultivation. And finally, Robert talks about the extensive marketing campaign being deployed in the US, supported by the government. It uses well-known characters from Sesame Street for the youngest target audience, while for others celebrities, including Hollywood stars, are used to promote fruit and vegetables. “Fewer and fewer celebrities want their name connected with unhealthy snacks.”

Hans Jansen and Anton Filippo of LBP filled the stand with a lot of soft fruit. During the so-called BreakOut session, Anton gave his view of new solutions offered by technology.

Murat Durgun of BBC Technologies makes an effort to increase brand awareness for the New Zealand manufacturer in Europe. The company’s range includes sorting and packaging machines.

Organic crop protection products and of course pollination from Koppert Biological Systems can also be deployed in soft fruit cultivation.

Growth markets
Mike Knowles, Eurofruit, presented the results of his study of the sector’s challenges. For this study, he interview around 300 individuals from the sector. The main results are, regarding challenges: the margins that are under pressure, consistency and quality of the berries and new varieties. Growth markets were also a part of the study. The most remarkable ones, in addition to the most well-known opportunities in Asia, are Romania, Ireland and the various markets in the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates.

The congress had 350 visitors from 32 countries. In between the various sessions, there was room for networking, enjoying a cup of coffee or tea, or to visit the stands on the small ‘expo square’. The themes included in the programme will be written about in the upcoming days. These themes are: cooperation with supermarkets to promote berries, the growth in Latin America (including the latest estimates for the past season), technological solutions and brand names for soft fruit.

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