As the blueberry and blackberry seasons in the United States and Canada slow down for the year, suppliers are now looking further afield to places like South America to fill the store shelves for the next few months. One supplier of berries is now starting up their Mexico season, shipping blueberries and blackberries from their partner growers in Mexico to the Canadian market.
Isaias and Fernando of Berry Sunny International, say the company works with small-scale farmers in Mexico. "That is our niche," they said. "We cannot compete with the large companies in terms of scale and cost-per-acre. So we worked with our partners in Mexico to find growers who also cannot sell to the larger producers because their operations are considered too small. In this way, we can fill the gap."
The company began operating last November and note that interest in the berries has been strong. "As soon as we advertise them, they fly out the door. Our berries attract a premium price to reflect the higher costs that we bear but I believe we are on the right path. We bring the berries straight from the farmer to the customer and they recognize our values in this regard. We are now looking at taking on more projects and steadily growing our presence, including possibly expanding to the UK."
New season just beginning now
The Mexico blueberry season began two weeks ago. However, persistent rain and generally humid conditions have slowed production. "The weather has not been cooperating," Fernando shared. "We had to temporarily suspend production as along with the rain, it has also been humid. Blueberries in particular are very susceptible to damage in these conditions. This often manifests itself when the berries are packed in their clamshells and exposed to refrigeration. We want to ensure our quality remains high, so we decided to wait until we resume harvesting."
Berry Sunny International's season typically extends from September through to June. According to Fernando, the company has the capacity to supply berries year round, but notes the local deals in Canada can be heavy and therefore it's more difficult to compete during the summer. Even during the northern winter, Mexico still only makes up a small share of blueberries in the market when compared with Peru and Chile. However, he said the company is not concerned by the numbers, as the focus is on the quality.
"Mexico is not a big player in blueberries when compared with Peru and Chile, however the quality of the berries we produce tends to be higher," he explained. "The reason is that when it comes to berry production, 90 percent of Mexican growers use more technology than their southern hemisphere counterparts. For example, they utilize micro-tunnels and many also grow hydroponically. This extends the shelf life of the berries and results in a superior flavor. Moreover, we can be in markets in Toronto and Montreal in just three days, or Vancouver in four. Compare this to the three or more weeks for berries to travel from South America."
Susceptible to market conditions
Although Berry Sunny International has made a successful business in bringing their berries from small scale Mexican farmers to the Canadian market, they are not immune to general market conditions. Fernando explained that several times during the season, volume from South America will flood the market, and prices react accordingly. He says that the market is on the cusp of such activity at the moment.
"Currently, we are seeing strong prices, but they are going to drop soon," he said. "Chile and Peru are about to boost volume and we could see prices drop to $8 in less than a month."
The majority of the company's business is still in blackberries. As there is very little volume of these coming from South America, the market tends to be more stable. "Around 80 percent of our business is blackberries," Fernando shared. "The blackberry market is strong right now and also does not fluctuate as much."
Berry Sunny International packs all of their berries in 6oz clamshells, with the vast majority destined for the Canadian market.