The Belgian blueberry season has begun at BelOrta again. "We want to use cultivation systems and variety selection to continue to focus on traits like flavor, crispiness, and good shelf life. Then our customers can have Belgian blueberries on their shelf from the 3rd week of June through the 3rd week of September," says Miguel Demaeght of this Belgian cooperative.
"This year, we're even in the picture ten days early. Not everyone has switched to the local product yet, but sales of all soft fruits got off to a solid start last week. We're also currently receiving good volumes, so prices are at the correct level. If this keeps up for the rest of the season, we'll be satisfied."
"The blueberries are of good quality too, despite the anxiety the unexpected frost and dry March caused. We certainly shouldn't grumble, but we have to remain vigilant. Last year showed what could still happen in July. For now, however, we have a nice run and can supply excellent quality blueberries to stores," Miguel explains.
He says the increase in demand for Belgian products fluctuates. "People learn quickly but also sometimes forget things. Post-COVID, some of that gained share is being surrendered again, but we're still firmly above the pre-pandemic level. This new elevated share doesn't seem to be changing either. We're realistic enough to have already considered that. Then your quality must be distinctive enough to ensure consumers choose Belgian blueberries."
"Dutch and Belgian people are more than happy to pay for local fruit. The question is, how much more? That's a personal decision," continues the fruit specialist.
"And in these tough economic times, for some, it's a little less than before. Berries generally remain a healthy, affordable, and above all delicious snack - something we must keep emphasizing."
Last year, BelOrta and Coöperatie Hoogstraten introduced a joint quality Belgian blueberries label for shoppers who want this local product. "That label is on the top seal and indicates that the product is Belgian and hand-picked. That makes it clear to people that they're buying quality and local."
BelOrta's organic blueberry share grows annually too. "Organic blueberry demand increases yearly, and we now receive huge volumes of these. This year, organic blueberries have a roughly 20% share of our entire blueberry crop. But you also need those significant volumes to make a difference. We've also developed special, recognizable organic top seals for these blueberries. Quite a few retailers already carry these," concludes Miguel.