Piet Meerkerk, buyer Special Fruit:

“Organic blueberries have to be just as good as conventional ones”

“The share of organic blueberries compared to conventional ones has grown considerably,” says Piet Meerkerk, buyer for Special Fruit. “Right now, 12 per cent of our blueberries are organic compared to four to five per cent four years ago. We’ve seen total consumption of blueberries rising, but organic is rising proportionally, and even more rapidly. Special Fruit paid much attention to organic blueberries in the past period, and we’re now seeing many supermarkets carrying organic besides conventional blueberries in their range.”

“There’s no longer a major difference between prices for organic blueberries and conventional product. Taken on average throughout the year, prices of organic blueberries are 20 per cent higher than of conventional. The price difference of 20 per cent is necessary because the yield of organic per hectare is 10 to 15 per cent lower than the conventional blueberry production,” Piet says. “In winter, the organic blueberries arrive per air freight, and transporting them this way is always more expensive than by boat.”

100% organic
Special Fruit has a plantation with organic blueberries in Grandola, Portugal. The farm grows 100 per cent organically, and has 17 hectares of blueberries in total. The most important sales markets are Austria, Germany, the UK, Belgium and the Netherlands. Organic blueberries are also shipped to Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Sweden from Belgium. “We think it’s important the organic blueberries are of high quality, and we’re at this level with the blueberries. Organic quality is often a bit poorer, but we’re striving to be equal or even better than conventional,” Piet continues.

Soft fruit
The consumption of blueberries is small in Southern Europe, although it is increasing. “France doesn’t yet understand the consumption of blueberries. In Belgium and the Netherlands, we call them soft fruit, and in France they talk about fruits rouges. Blueberries aren’t as popular there yet, nor have they become part of the consumption pattern yet, as in Northern Europe,” Piet says. “The popularity of blueberries in Belgium is partly thanks to Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn, which has promoted blueberries via Delhaize.”

The availability of blueberries across the world is very great. “This means greenhouse production of blueberries will gradually disappear. Greenhouse production is much too expensive, and the supplement price of greenhouse blueberries will become much too low. Considering the changing weather, we’ll see some things changing in the production of blueberries. The weather is becoming more extreme with rain and hail. Growers will have to cover their fields to protect their harvest,” Piet says.

Of the amount of blueberries (organic and conventional), 80 to 85 per cent is meant for retail. Besides conventional, many retailers also have organic berries in their assortment. “Redcurrants won’t become as popular as blueberries have become. Consumption is only decreasing, as well as the number of growers. The number of growers of organic blueberries continues to increase. Next year, we’ll have 17 hectares of additional production of organic blueberries in the Netherlands, because many growers are switching to organic,” Piet concludes.

For more information:
Piet Meerkerk
Special Fruit
Europastraat 36
2321 Meer, Belgium 
+32 331 706 60

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