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GLOBAL OVERVIEW BLUEBERRIES

Blueberry production and consumption continues to rise globally, despite the adverse weather in some countries, and the increased costs of production being experienced across the world. China remains the world’s largest producer of blueberries, having overtaken North America in 2019. A shortage of labour has been an issue in some countries, with some growers in the UK starting their harvest later due to this problem. In Italy there are fears of a water shortage, whilst in Australia growers have lost 10% of the crop nation-wide due to heavy rains and flooding. Meanwhile in South Africa a debate has arisen around the declining returns from the cultivation of blueberries, after the country had a rough season last year. Despite these issues, however, demand for the popular berry continues to grow, and prospects on the whole are good for the global blueberry market.

Netherlands: Picking blueberries cautiously started, good berries from Serbia on the market too
The Moroccan blueberry season has been qualitatively good. "The price setting was very high during the first few weeks. But from week 15/16 onwards, we saw a generous price decrease in the market with the arrival of the Spanish season and larger Moroccan volumes. Spain has had a long season so these berries were more spread out than expected. All in all, two beautiful windows that have run smoothly," a Dutch importer concludes. Portugal started the season from week 21/22. "This season has been very difficult as far as quality is concerned. The Portuguese growers still expect to receive very high prices as they did in the past. Unfortunately, we have to conclude that many Portuguese growers - fortunately not all of them - cannot guarantee their quality and therefore this quality does not correspond to the prices they demand. Many buyers also see this and are already shifting their focus almost 100% to Serbia and local cultivation."

"Meanwhile, the Serbian blueberry season has also started. At the moment, very good quality berries are coming from here. The berries are hard, crunchy and have a good taste. The volume that is now starting to come in is also reflected in the price; the price is starting to drop slightly, which is also affecting other countries that are starting up now. The Dutch blueberry growers started picking cautiously this week, the fruit on the plant shows good size and shape. The run-up to the season has been good, no unusual weather conditions, so it should finally be another beautiful season for Dutch blue berry growers," expects the fruit trader, who concludes with a warning. "Buyers still need to realise that quality has a price. Comparing Southern European prices (end of season, empty cold stores) with prices of fresh pick (Serbia, NL, DE) is still done too much. Don't go for price, go for quality. Quality has its price, but will cause less problems with buyer/end customer."

Belgium: Share of organic blueberries continues to rise
The blueberry season has started in Belgium. "The demand for Belgian blueberries is good. We see that not everyone has switched to the local product yet, but sales are going well," says a Belgian trader. "After some anxiety due to the unexpected frost and dry March, the quality turns out to be excellent. We already have a good run and we started almost 2 weeks earlier than last year. Moreover, the prices are at a correct level, so that we'll be satisfied if they continue throughout the season."

"As far as organic blueberries are concerned, we have very large volumes coming in," he continues. "For us, it is about 20 per cent of the entire production and the demand for the organic product continues to rise every year in Belgium. The quality is also good again, which is why more and more retailers are putting them on their shelves."

Germany: Domestic harvest is starting
The German blueberry market is currently characterized by diversity and numerous origins: "The supply from Serbia and Romania is now rapidly picking up speed, while the last Spanish lots and produce from Italy and Portugal are arriving on the market. Since week 25, we have also been able to access the first German tunnel goods and in a few days we are also expecting the first outdoor goods of the Duke variety. The assortment will be rounded off in about 2-3 weeks with the first shipments from Poland," an importer explains. Prices are slightly below last year’s level, despite production costs continuing to rise.

The main variety in German cultivation is the Duke. Most volumes are entering the market in the 1st half of the season, as Poland increasingly presses the market with volumes in the second half of the season. Normally, the main German harvest is marketed until mid-October. Northern Germany is still the main cultivation area, meanwhile certain southern regions are also gaining ground. Their volumes are mainly marketed at regional wholesale markets.

UK: Lack of labour delays blueberry harvest by a week for some
The blueberry harvest is underway in the UK, one Kent grower said they could have started last week but held off until this week. 

“We held off due to labour costs and availability, instead of doing two pickings we decided to wait and just do one bigger pick. This will not affect the shelf life or quality of the fruit as it goes straight to the retailers.” 

There will be a steady build-up of fruit over the next 2-3 weeks as volumes reach a peak, harvesting will continue with different varieties through the summer until August/ September. 

Demand is reasonable, but growers in general are concerned about the rising cost of living affecting demand for soft fruit. Whereas strawberries and raspberries are seen as a British summer fruit, blueberries are not as they have traditionally been imported 52 weeks of the year.

Poland and Southern Europe can produce with very competitive prices and although the UK cannot supply year-round there is scope to be self-sufficient through the summer months. 

Blueberry consumption is still growing in the UK, but in order be more competitive UK growers would need to switch to harvesting with machines to make it cost effective.

France: Good prospects for French blueberries
Spanish blueberries can still be found on the French market. Berries of French origin are also present and the production is set to ramp up over the coming weeks. Most of the blueberries are still packed in 125g trays. The heat wave of the last few days has induced some irrigation. In the south-west, some blueberry growers were affected by the frost at the beginning of April, which delayed the start of production for about 3 weeks. But contrary to last season, the harvest looks good in terms of volume. As for quality, it is satisfactory for the moment.

In general, the blueberry market in France continues to develop, with an ever-increasing demand.

Italy: Fears about lack of water as blueberry area continues to grow
High temperatures are affecting the blueberry campaign in northern Italy. A major operator says that the product has a smaller size than in previous years, and also the ripening, due to the weather, is faster. In addition, there is the problem of drought: farms with limited water available run the risk of suffering plants. In the north-west of Italy, the harvest is 50%. Prices are not very high as they clash with those of the Spanish product which are more competitive. The Italian operator exports to all of Europe, primarily Great Britain and Switzerland, but also Eastern countries that are more easily reached by Italian operators than Spanish ones.    

Every year, blueberry areas in Campania are growing. "The harvest began a few months ago,” says the director of a cooperative. “We are strongly convinced of the qualities of the Italian blueberry, that is why every year we increase the production areas by a few hectares; in this way we grow not only in terms of cultivation, but also in volume. In the last month, we have had a few problems due to the abundant availability of the product on the markets, linked above all to the presence of competing Spanish products, which clogged the markets for some time. Now, however, the situation has calmed down.

For the Val Venosta blueberries, an output of around 30 tonnes is expected. "When you consider that each tray contains 125 grams of product, you realise that this is anything but a small quantity,” explains an Italian cooperative.

This year will be the first test case for the Sekoya varieties thanks to the production in Piedmont and other Italian regions, including Southern Italy. The project is to achieve strong production in Italy and worldwide in a few years in order to be able to guarantee Sekoya varieties 12 months a year. Currently, about 15 hectares of Sekoya have been planted in Italy, but it is planned to reach 120 hectares by 2027. Domestic product availability is expected from the end of March to the end of October.

Spain: Spanish blueberry prices recover
The price of Spanish blueberries has recovered significantly in the last two weeks. Even so, it continues to move at low levels due to the much greater volumes compared to previous campaigns. Once the peak of the season has passed, throughout the month of June, blueberry volumes decline rapidly. It is estimated that more than 95% of the total expected in the campaign has been marketed and that in the current campaign the marketed production is higher than the previous one by more than 20%. It is expected that in the coming campaigns the supply from Huelva will continue to rise, as well as in the rest of the world's producing countries. Industry experts calculate, therefore, that prices will continue to adjust in the coming campaigns and that this could encourage greater consumption.

South Africa: Blueberry production continues to increase despite lowering returns
Drips and drabs of blueberries have been exported, totaling 300 tonnes from February until now. The main blueberry season is now set to move into higher gear as the northern parts of the country start harvesting (in Zimbabwe the blueberry harvest is already underway).

Last year, South Africa exported 20,000 tonnes of blueberries; for the moment, the season ahead is estimated at 25,000 tonnes of exports, but it could be higher. (Overall production was 31,500 tonnes last year.)

During South Africa’s peak, when the Western Cape growers put their fruit on the market, there is strong competition from Peru which puts pressure on prices and there has been a vigorous recent debate on the lowering returns on blueberries after a rough past season.

The blueberry industry was subject to severe logistical delays in 2021, fruit taking as much as 60 days to arrive in Europe. Exports were lower than expected and the Bureau for Farm and Agricultural Policy has said that 2021 export prices were 14% lower than the year before, mainly due to lower prices in Europe.

Input costs are a heavy burden at the moment.

The national berry organization has focused on establishing accurate data of the industry: there are currently 2,826 hectares of blueberries in South Africa (74% of that in the Western Cape, 20% in Limpopo). As part of the industry’s maturation there has been removal of more marginal cultivars and replacement by others. By next year the acreage under blueberries will be 3,208ha.

By comparison, Peru, South Africa’s direct competitor on blueberries, has more than 12,000 hectares of blueberries.

China: China overtakes US as largest global blueberry producer
March until July are months for domestic blueberries on the Chinese market. The domestic season starts around March. Prices this year for early season berries hovered around 40 euros per kg. By mid April, when larger badges from Yunnan province entered the market, the price dropped to 100 Yuan (14 euro) per kg.

According to data, China overtook the US as the largest blueberry producer in the world in 2019. The top five regions of China's blueberry production in 2020 are Guizhou, Sichuan, Anhui, Liaoning, and Shandong. Production in Yunnan is developing rapidly, particularly its early-maturing fresh varieties.

Large blueberry exporters to China are Chile and Peru. In recent years, Peru's blueberry production and exports to China have skyrocketed; From 2010 to 2019, its export production to China exploded from almost nothing to 140 million pounds. China's consumers prefer the white bloom that is a natural characteristic of some blueberry varieties.

North America: Low supply of blueberries push prices up
Supplies of blueberries in the U.S. are slimmer than usual for this time of year.

On the West Coast of the U.S., blueberries are going to be extremely tight, in part because of the timing of the California blueberry deal. “The California program started a bit earlier than it normally would and it’s ending a bit earlier than it normally would. They got some good weather for growing and produced a lot of fruit and had a lot of promotions out there,” says one shipper. “Typically we see California carry through June and then transition into Oregon basically right now. And that’s just not happening.”

While the timing of California’s production is one reason why supplies are tighter, the bigger impact on the market is the delay of Pacific Northwest blueberries from Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. “The Pacific Northwest has had a very cool spring and all the deals through those regions are a bit on the delayed side,” says the shipper. “So volumes are tighter and we’ll likely see this through the first week or two of July. Then we’ll be back on the normal production curve we see out of the Pacific Northwest. We anticipate by the middle of July, there will be plentiful and promotable volumes of blueberries.”

Meanwhile on the East Coast, the New Jersey blueberry deal is underway and he says its production is normal. “It’s fairly warm right now on the East Coast and throughout the Midwest. The deal moves from New Jersey and into Michigan and there are still some things to be seen about how the Michigan crop develops. Especially with some of that humidity and heat in the last five days or so.” 

As for demand, it’s expected to continue to be strong for blueberries. “A number of retailers have worked with us on promotions and different things to keep fruit moving. We have a number of promotions also coming up through July and into August,” says the shipper. “We anticipate demand on blueberries will continue to rise and the summertime blueberry deal is no exception to that.”

However, that strong demand and tighter volumes will affect how much production is available for the July 1st Canada Day-U.S. July 4th weekend--a holiday typically associated with berries. (July is also National Blueberry Month.)

All together, this shorter market is keeping pricing high right now and the shipper anticipates it will stay that way through the next three to four weeks. “But we anticipate it will return to historical levels as we make our way through July and normalize those volumes from both the Pacific Northwest and the back end of the New Jersey deal and into Michigan, so the back part of July and into August.”

Australia: 10% reduction in blueberry crop due to adverse weather
It was a challenging start for the Australian blueberry industry, with heavy rainstorms and flooding having a significant effect on the growers in Northern New South Wales, which produces around 75 per cent of the nation's supply. An industry body has estimated a reduction of around 10 per cent in production across the whole industry due to this. The peak industry body is also increasing its domestic marketing campaign, following the flow-on effects from COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a two per cent reduction in consumption, as shoppers switched their habits to online purchasing or making fewer visits to retail stores. Work is also being done in Australia to improve export opportunities and market access, by underpinning fruit fly protocols.

The aforementioned weather conditions at the start of this year are likely to impact the recent year on year growth across the  Australian blueberry industry. For the year ending June 2021, 23,452 tonnes were produced and valued at $411million, according to the latest figures. That is an increase of 13 per cent in volume and 6 per cent increase in value, and follows a 9 per cent volume and 15 per cent value increases in the financial year ending June 2020.

Next week: Global Overview Tomatoes!


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