Alejandro Olvera, of Productores Qzar:

"Mexico: "Blackberries will continue to grow throughout the world"

Expectations are that the demand for blackberries will grow in the coming years. This culture, which is relatively recent in Mexico, is in full expansion. Blackberries are increasingly marketed worldwide and the area devoted to them continues to increase.

Alejandro Olvera, from Productores Qzar spoke about the story of the blackberry in Mexico: "The berries (blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries) arrived in Mexico some 30 years ago. Mexico has had strawberry crops for many years and it has been a very important crop. It is widely cultivated in many parts of the country. However, currently, it's the blueberry, raspberry, and blackberry crops that are growing tremendously. These fruits were not commercially available before. These were introduced in the country by some researchers who thought that Mexico could have significant potential with this crops in the early 90s and that took them to Michoacan. The culture adapted very well and they saw that it was feasible to grow them. Some foreign companies that were already exporting strawberries became interested in blackberry, mainly, and the area devoted to this fruit grew. Many farmers who cultivated sugar cane and that were affected by its low prices opted for blackberry crops, as they were much more interesting.

Olvera estimates that there are at least 10,000 hectares of blackberries in Mexico, and that that number continues to increase. "The highest growth took place from 2000 to 2008; Mexico went from having 2,000 hectares to 9 or 10,000 hectares. At present, hectares continue to grow, although not at the same pace," said the producer. "It was Mexican business for many years. Mexico was the world's leading exporter until 2011 and, since 2012, the United States now ranks first. Spain and Morocco, for example, became major exporters in a few years."

Mexico is a major exporter of blueberries and blackberries out of the US season, producing for the domestic market and for export. According to the producer, the American season runs from May to November, a moment in which the Mexican production enters with great force.

During the winter months, United States buys berries from Mexico, both for the local market and to re-export to other countries. Olvera said Mexico didn't do this because only a few family companies have the strength and readiness to export directly to other countries. "The exporting culture is not widely spread throughout the Mexican population," he said. "It is difficult for Mexicans to see themselves as exporters. Obviously, there are many who export. Mexico is a major exporter and things are changing, there's a dependency on many foreign companies investing in Mexico."

Since this product has had a great expansion prices have decreased. "Before 2000, a box of 12 x 170 grams of blackberries was being paid at $40 dollars. Currently, farmers receive an average of $6 dollars. There used to be 2,000 hectares planted and now there are 10,000. There were few countries with production and today there are 90 countries producing berries.

According to Olvera, growth will continue. "More and more people want to eat healthy, and the berries give consumers that option. They are very attractive: they are tasty, fresh, beautiful, and have many antioxidants," the producer said, adding that there have been many studies on the berries' health benefits.

He also compared blackberries and blueberries: "Blueberries have a greater demand because they have more antioxidants than blackberries and raspberries. They contain more antioxidants but they are also the most expensive berries. Everybody might want to eat blueberries, but many prefer to buy Blackberries because they are economical. Both alternatives are healthy. Some people even prefer blackberries and other people like cranberry." 

Productores Qzar is a social enterprise in central Mexico, made up of four family and friends groups. "We are not a large investment nor foreign company. We've only known about blackberries for 12 years. We liked the culture, brought it to our state, and planted it outside the area where we produced berries. People thought it couldn't be produced here. However, we thought it was possible and succeeded growing it," he said. Productores Qzar has customers in several countries, and is mainly engaged in trade with other family businesses that do not need or can't afford very large volumes. "We are growing for companies that are our size, regardless of which country they are in. We love working with family businesses that don't need a container, but a pallet." The company is close to three airports, so it can cater to everyone.

The company works exclusively with organic products and has all certificates required by the European Union, the United States, Canada, and Mexico, among others. "Safety and environmental regulations are very important," said Olvera.

Olvera stressed that the berry sector would continue to grow throughout the world: "In Mexico, the largest buying companies sell 4 tons of berries per week to more than 1,000 outlets across the country. Ten years ago, they did not buy even a kilo. Estimates are that it will have a high growth in the next ten years. " Few people knew or consumed blackberries in the area where Productores Qzar works; currently, new areas have been established for the more than 6,000 annual visits that local producers receive, and estimates are that the harvest in U pick orchards will reach 10,000 people a year in the next 2 years.

"We are thinking about setting up about 100 hectares in the coming years, but having a family of 5 people working every 4 acres (1.6 hectares). Just like we did when we started, like things were in Michoacan. We don't want to do it through large companies or for large supermarkets. What we want is for families here to work for families in other continents. That's what we want: better prices and better quality; knowing other countries and getting other countries to know us," he concluded.

More information:

Productores Qzar
Senegal de las Palomas, San Juan del Río, Querétaro, México
Alejandro Olvera
Óscar Michel
Joel Martínez

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