The weather in Morocco and southern Spain has so far been ideal for blueberry cultivation. "We are very fortunate this campaign, since we have a supply of blueberries with a really good caliber, taste quality and firmness. It is a very different situation compared to last year, in which the adverse weather conditions, with excessive rainfall in March, April and May, took a negative toll on the fruit's shelf life," explains Tanguy Debiesse, strategy director of Fresh Royal.
He also says that, at this time, prices are good in the European markets. "The early fruit arriving from Morocco and Huelva is fresher and more homogeneous in terms of quality than that from the southern hemisphere. The fresh managers of large European distribution chains report that they are not very satisfied with their irregularity and believe that the quality of our fruit is more reliable. Besides, the bulk of Huelva's blueberry production is late, which means that there is still a good market balance, so prices are good."
This year, the Seville-based company, which owns blueberry plantations in Morocco and has contracts with producers in Huelva, has seen its acreage expand by about 10%. The harvest kicks off in mid-December and ends in July. This year's harvest is expected to exceed the 9 million kilos.
"We are strongly betting on this product and continue to expand each year in terms of volume as the demand grows. We are the most integrated berry producer, since we have our own breeding program and our own nurseries, which makes varietal renewal all the most efficient," says Tanguy Debiesse.
Royal has two blueberry brands based on their different flavors, textures and color. On the one hand, there's Blue Aroma, which features more aromatic varieties, and on the other, the Royal Sweet line, with more sub-acid flavors. "We aim for lines with different varieties that share the same characteristics. The idea is for the consumer not to get confused and make it easier for them to identify their preferences," says Tanguy.
Most of the company's blueberry sales are intended for Europe, where, according to Tanguy, consumption is recording significant growth in countries such as France, Italy and Spain. "It is impressive how blueberry consumption is growing in these countries. It is still far from that in the northernmost countries of Europe, but it is on the right track."
Moreover, they also export to farther destinations, such as the Middle East, Hong Kong or the United States. Spanish exporters have a great interest in opening the Chinese market, where this company is already shipping stone fruit. According to Tanguy, "although it may be interesting to diversify our markets, this is also not the solution to every problem. Furthermore, not everyone is prepared to export to this market."
One of the aspects in which the blueberry market could surely see some changes, according to Tanguy Debiesse, is its segmentation. "At the moment, supermarkets make little room for blueberries, unlike what we see with other berries, such as strawberries. I believe that, in the future, there will be lines with different prices and qualities, as we are already seeing in the United Kingdom, where they are usually one step ahead of the rest of Europe."