“The blueberries are of exceptional quality,” says Omar Ehab, O’berries soft fruit specialist team leader. This Dutch company imports fresh and IQF frozen fruit. They don’t only sell Dutch blueberries. They also import and sell berries from Serbia, Chile, Peru, Portugal, Spain, and Poland. Omar notes prices were more-or-less standard at the end of May, but there were slightly fewer-than-usual sales.
Blueberries from Kosovo
This depressed demand and lagging supply made for stable prices. “We’re pleased that there’s sufficient demand to absorb the supply. Prices are, therefore, remaining at an acceptable level.” He hopes the market and prices will stay under control when more blueberries come onto the market over a few weeks. Not like last year, when different countries harvesting their berries at the same time caused a surplus.
Blueberry field in Kosovo
Omar says that since the institution of the anti-corona measures at O’Berries, the focus has been on filing contracted programs. In contrast, there are hardly any spot blueberry sales. “We keep less stock, and suppliers also send fewer blueberries. They want to take less risk. It’s all about risk and uncertainty. We could sell about 10-15 tons on the spot market. But, as long as things remain unsure, you don’t know if clients will buy their normal volumes,” he says.
Decreased demand for redcurrants
Omar’s less optimistic about redcurrants. He sees that these often go to the hospitality and foodservice channels. There’s, therefore, far less demand for these little red fruits now. The Dutch redcurrant season gradually starts at the end of May. Omar noticed that the Chinese varieties are of poor quality, and he hopes the Dutch season’s better. “April and May are usually golden months for redcurrants with prices running up to between €30 and €40/box.”
“We, unfortunately, didn’t get those prices this year.” Omar has noticed a general decline in the demand for plastic. “There’s generally less demand for plastic and, so, we have new cardboard packaging,” Ehab explains. He sees that clients are implementing the idea of sustainability more broadly than just using less plastic. Attention is being given to issues like preventing food wastage and food chain transparency too.
To this end, O’Berries is researching consumer berry needs. They want to adapt their supply to meet those needs and, in that way, prevent berries from being discarded. Suppliers are taking fewer risks, resulting in less supply. They are also working a lot with contracted programs. Omar, therefore, sees there’s less food being wasted. He considers this one of the unexpected positives of the corona crisis.
But, the corona crisis has definitely affected the soft fruit trade. “When the crisis began, people started panic-buying, and it was hectic,” Omar reflects. “We were sold out for three weeks, with no stock. Things then returned to a normal level. And the end of May was even quieter than usual.” Omar noted that by the end of May, additional sales to retailers could no longer compensate for the missing sales to the hospitality sector. There was, however, no chance of surpluses because the supply was also lagging. “Luckily, very little Spanish or Portuguese fruit came onto the market.”
“There was also not so much from the Netherlands.” Soft fruit exports to Asia have also been hit quite hard. “We couldn’t export at normal levels because of abnormal airfreight space and prices.” Ehab explains that last year at the same time, O’Berries exported 30 to 40 pallets of blueberries just to Hong Kong per week. “Now, we’re at five to six pallets, at most.” He admits that since there are often too few bookings, flights are canceled. He expects the coronavirus to determine the soft fruit season’s progress.
“It’s all very peculiar. Blueberries are a daily trade item, so when things go awry with suppliers, customers, and logistics, you really feel the difference between pre and post-corona times.” Omar, however, doesn’t consider the entire situation as purely negative. He sees that, for example, the government’s more flexible regarding documentation and that clients are understanding. “It affects everyone. It’s also good that we are helping each other.” But Omar concedes that, in the end, money needs to be made. And that’s where the damage is being done.