European harvests of blueberries face issues in supply caused by cold spells of weather, whilst an excellent US harvest arrives to a market lacking in other berries, much to their advantage. Spain in particular predicted a 40/50% increase in harvest, which has failed to materialise. Demand and consumption remain good across the board, creating high prices due to the lower supply in many countries.

UK: Slow start despite steady demand
Spain is the main blueberry supplier to the UK market at the moment, but it has been a slow start to the season. This is due to the cold weather in Spain in recent weeks. The quality of the Spanish blueberries is fair according to one importer.

Demand is steady and some retailers have promotions and various pack sizes. The cold weather in the UK has done much to encourage demand, but a bit of sunshine will change that.

The UK domestic crop is in flower at the moment, one grower reports that there is very little visible damage from the night frosts, but his whole crop is under cover. It will become clearer in the next few weeks if there was any real damage done. That said, there is still a long way to go and more cold nights on the way, while high winds last week also had growers worried about the polytunnels. 

The Netherlands: turbulent import season for blueberries
The market for blueberries is very turbulent, according to a Dutch soft fruit importer: "Where historically the big peak from Spain and Morocco should have been going on for ten days now, we see that the production is not starting to flow, which means that we are seeing a duel between growers and retailers. The retailer sees from a historical point of view that the prices should be at a low point now, so that they would like to do big promotions for little money and the grower has the position of power by being able to sell the product on different channels. The fruit for the real big offers is just not present. The period from week 22-26 will be an in-between period, which is already being anticipated by activating Mexico and California to capture berries. A high price setting is very much expected here."

"From Morocco, volumes will fall back quickly after the end of next week, so everyone will be sourcing more from Spain. The peak in Spain, as we are traditionally used to, will have flattened out more, so there will be no sharp price drops. That makes both the Spanish and Moroccan season relatively stable in price, without high peaks and deep troughs," says the importer. "Qualitatively, Morocco has had a nice season, with little to no quality problems so far. We hope that this will remain the case in the last weeks of the season. Spain shows a mixed picture in the fields. The traditionally older varieties and plants are having a harder time at the moment. This is resulting in some sensitive or even broken berries, which are normally present in the Spanish season. This is probably the aftermath of the frost that the Huelva region experienced at the beginning of the year."

Germany: Difficult sales in May
Sales of blueberries were particularly difficult in May. The bulk of the supply currently comes from Spain, where the late varieties are now coming onto the market. "It is worthwhile to invest in early varieties and to have them on the market by the end of April/beginning of May. After that, the demand will decrease and the supply will increase. In the first half of the season, sales were particularly good: The volumes from Morocco were somewhat disappointing, while Spain had a reasonably normal harvest. Demand exceeded supply across the board, resulting in stable and good prices," says a trader.

Corona hardly plays a significant role anymore in production and logistics. Compared to the old situation, the market is heterogeneous rather than homogeneous, due to the different measures per country and market. In general, Corona does not seem to be doing any harm to the consumption of blueberries in Germany. Apart from a small dip in May, the sales volume increased every month last year compared to the same sales month in 2019. German blueberry cultivation is concentrated mainly in northern Lower Saxony, and the harvest normally starts in the first half of July and runs until the end of August/beginning of September.

Italy: First Italian blueberries on the market
In Italy the consumption of blueberries is clearly increasing compared to 2020, but the growth trend has been stable for about 5-6 years. Harvesting is going on in Sicily and Calabria and in Campania it started at the beginning of May: production volumes are not abundant, but requests both in Italy and abroad are high. The countries which most appreciate Italian berries are mainly Germany, Switzerland, Austria and Eastern countries. Northern Italy will start harvesting and selling around week 22 (beginning of June). In spite of frosts, from the point of view of quantities there should be no problems.

In the wholesale markets of Northern Italy, there are currently Spanish and Chilean blueberries, in Central Italy there were also trays of Peruvian product at the end of April. Prevailing prices range from 13.50 to 15 Euro. The prices of the Italian product appear to be in line with those of the imported product.

According to a buyer of the Italian retail trade, on the shelf the majority of blueberries are of foreign origin, mostly from Spain, but the first Italian blueberries are also present. Prices paid to suppliers are around 11-13 Euro/kg. Sales cost varies between 18 and 19 Euro/kg. A fundamental element requested by the retail sector is shelf life: the longer a product guarantees shelf life, the more it is sought after and paid for.

In the second half of March, the first Italian zero-residue blueberries were launched on the market, produced by a well-known cooperative in Northern Italy and certified. They are a novelty for Italy: they come exclusively from the Sicilian and Calabrian fields of its members, who grow giant American blueberries of different varieties, mainly Ventura, on over 50 hectares. There is a variety of packaging to choose from: the new 125 gram plastic free pack, the 100 gram cup or the 125 gram basket.

United States: Domestic supplies of blueberries are coming on heavily to meet high demand
The supplies follow a delayed start. “The crops in Georgia and Florida had been delayed 10-15 days, depending on the varieties and location. And two weeks ago they went through rough weather,” says a California based trader.

Right now, Central Florida is behind on its pick while North Florida is harvesting good supplies. Georgia is also ramping up and will reach its pick in about seven to 10 days. “The good thing is production is lining up with one location after the other.”

Mexico still has fruit but it has an evergreen production. “The volumes out of Mexico don’t grow or decrease from one week to the next,” he says. “Mexico though has been in the driver’s seat for West Coast distribution for the past six weeks and will be for another week or two more.” 

Elsewhere in CA, a company-held farm saw a slower than anticipated start to the season. However volumes are expected to progress steadily as the month moves on and the crop looks strong in size and quality. “We anticipate a strong jumbo blueberry program.”

All of this meets a market that has an overall shortage on all berries. “When you have a shortage on one berry, typically the market goes and buys another one,” the trader.

He also notes that the berry industry’s work to create quality year-round supplies has helped make berries an item consumers shop for weekly. He also notes that overall pack sizes on blueberries are trending larger. “If the package is bigger, the market might still sell the same amount of packages but if each package has more volume, then you’re moving more volume.”

As for pricing, April prices have been significantly above a normal year.

Poland: Low winter damage, but threat of spotted wing drosophilia lurks
There’s been very little winter damage to the blueberry crops so far. Some farms do state there have been damages to 10% of their crops, but even this number does not mean there will be 10% less yield. If we look at the damages at this time, it should not even have any real effect on the total volumes after harvest. A new challenge will be dealing with the spotted wing drosophila, which has started to appear since 2020. The Polish growers always knew this could become a problem in the future, and now the threat is here. It has led to real concern amongst them. The good news however, is that the start of the season will be back to normal, after several years of early starts. For the past few years the season started early, on July the 1st. This year it’s expected that the season will kick off at July the 10th.

Spain: Large harvest fails to materialise, but good prospects for remainder of season
The blueberry campaign continues in Huelva showing good expectations as it progresses, and registering good results that are expected to continue during this month and even next. This year, the snow storm Filomena delayed the productions of the early varieties for more than a month. At the same time, the cold brought forward the production of the late varieties. At that time it seemed that all the varieties were going to collapse in the month of April and they were going to enter production peaks together: the early ones later and the late ones earlier. However, the temperatures in March and April have been very mild, so there has been no peak.

Right now, the early Snowchaser and Windsord varieties have already finished their production or are ending and the mid-season varieties such as Ventura, Emerald or Jewel are at their peak and will end in about two weeks. As for the late varieties, the first blueberries are already being harvested, while the harvest of the most delayed varieties will begin in about 10 days. This offers very good prospects for the remainder of the season, as a very uniform season is expected until the end.

The productions foreshadowed a year with 40-50% more volume due to the age of the bushes, the hectares in production and the varieties planted and, above all, taking into account the figures of the past. But this scenario has not really happened and the production has been lacking in practically 80% of the campaign. Demand has remained very high and prices have been maintained. In fact, the blueberry is the berry that has done the best in Huelva. While the spring temperatures have allowed the Spanish blueberry campaign to avoid the oversupply that was feared at the beginning of the year, in some northern European countries the climate is not improving. Many European countries are between 15 and 20 days late and that will guarantee that Spain continues all May and June in the market with good programs.

South Africa: Good crop expected
The new blueberry season has started in Zimbabwe, with the fruit being exported to a high-end retailer in South Africa.

In South Africa the new harvest has not yet started but there are reports of a very good crop coming from the north of South Africa as a result of strong expansion over the last few years. It is forecast that blueberry acreage will pass 3,000 hectares by next year, predominantly in the Western Cape.

Australia: Blueberry export almost doubles
According to the latest statistics, there was good, continued growth in the Australian blueberry sector for the year ending June 2020, 20,783 tonnes were produced, which was an increase of nine per cent on the previous year. There was also a 15 per cent jump in value to $389.6 million on the previous year. Consumption wise, 56 per cent of Australian households purchased fresh blueberries throughout the year. Although still small on a global scale, exports also increased significantly, to with a volume of 393 tonnes, 96 per cent up on the previous year, while values were also up by 75 per cent to $8.4 million. At the same time, imports also increased, predominately from New Zealand, up six per cent from the year before to 1,644 tonnes. Blueberry production is centred in the northern New South Wales region of Coffs Harbour. The majority of the production in this region occurs over the summer months, wrapping up in early spring - but growing regions in the southern Australian regions ensure a year-round supply.

China: Season drawing to a close with high prices and shift towards soilless growing medium
The current blueberry season in the Liaodong Peninsula is nearly ended. The Jiaodong Peninsula blueberry has just been launched, and the price is firm due to its freshness and small quantity. At present, the price of ordinary fruit is 50-60 yuan/500g, and the price of high-quality fruit is 70-80 yuan/500g. The price is even much higher than that of Chilean imported fruit.

Yunnan blueberries are nearing the end of their season. The two sides of the Yangtze River and the areas south of it will enter the rainy season during the fruiting season, and the fruit quality is poor. It is expected that the price of blueberry in Jiaodong Peninsula will remain high for a period of time, until the end of May, when a large number of southern blueberries are on the market, the price will fall.

Chinese consumers' demand for domestically produced blueberries is about 1 million tonnes, but the actual result area is only 400,000 mu, which is about 250,000 tonnes. It can be seen that the market potential is huge. With the increasing demand for high-quality domestic blueberries in first-tier cities, more and more companies have grown blueberries in Shanghai in the past two years.

The substrate soilless cultivation of blueberries is a cultivation and business model that has become popular since 2019. It has large investment, large output, short cycle and high efficiency. It is the darling of capital. The cost of substrate soilless facilities in Yunnan production areas is 100,000 yuan/Mu, while the investment cost in the northern region is 200,000-300,000 RMB/mu, so it has obvious cost advantages from the perspective of enterprises. Driscoll’s was the first to experiment in Yunnan around 2014. After the successful trial planting, more and more capitals and large enterprises in the industry saw the advantages of Yunnan substrate blueberry planting and began to set plants in Yunnan. From 2019 to 2020 alone, 25 international blueberry giants have set up factories in Yunnan, and their planting area and production has surged.

Next week: Global Overview of mango market

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