Reports from around the world currently describe a dynamic global blueberry market. The Netherlands is grappling with an ongoing shortage, particularly from Peru and South Africa, leading to persistently high prices and challenges for suppliers. In Germany, importers face a significant drop in volumes, resulting in doubled prices and a shift to smaller packs. France experiences a blend of Peruvian and Portuguese blueberries, anticipating increased supply from Argentina and Morocco in December. Italy witnesses robust blueberry yields in Emilia-Romagna, with the market dominated by Southern Hemisphere imports. South Africa thrives amid the scarcity, capitalizing on high demand, while North America awaits a boost in supply after disruptions caused by El Nino.
The Netherlands: Continued high price level expected due to expected blueberry shortage in December
The past few weeks have been very difficult for blueberry suppliers, traders and packers. This is because the volume from both Peru and South Africa was simply not there. The market remained very much in demand for blueberries which resulted in a bizarre price situation for a very long period. Whereas in recent years the product from South Africa was qualitatively inferior to South America, we see that this has reversed in this year. Peru suffers from very sensitive berries, while South Africa can only deliver the hard 'marbles'. El Nino has had a very big impact on both volume and quality with fears that this will continue to flow through into Peru's productions over the next two seasons.
This year has been a good eye-opener, mainly for retail, that the product does not come off a shelf by default when they order," said a Dutch importer. "Heading into the coming weeks, we will see a nice entry of blueberries until week 48/49, but still not enough to feed the entire market as we have been used to in recent years. Prices will remain high as large shortages are expected again for December. All in all, a challenging market situation that keeps everyone on their toes and fighting to bring out the best for customer and growers. Together we will have to bridge this period and that can only be done through good communication and a very fair price setting towards growers."
Belgium: Shortage causes very high prices
"We are mainly working with blueberries from Peru at the moment. The Sokoya variety," explains a Belgian trader. "However, they are very expensive at the moment. There are many soft varieties, which we actually cannot sell. Everything from berries is very expensive. Until recently, we still had three different varieties here, but now you have to look for affordable product. There is no cheaper alternative, because that quality leaves much to be desired. Nevertheless, they still sell quite well. The ease of use of blueberries creates a lot of popularity in these times and if then the quality is okay, people are quite willing to pay for it."
Germany: Importers only receiving half the normal volumes
Due to bottlenecks in Peru, the supply situation on the global blueberry market is currently very tight. Compared to the previous year, importers are currently only receiving half the import volumes, which is why prices have been doubled. Due to the lack of quantities, German food retailers are also currently forced to offer predominantly smaller packs - 125 to 300 grams instead of 500+ punnets. In order to make up for the shortfall to some extent, the South African season is starting relatively early this year. Goods have even been flown in to bring the season forward. The same goes for smaller volumes from Chile. Till January 2024, when Chile and Morocco are in full swing, shortages are expected.
France: Peruvian and Portuguese Blueberries on the French market
The two origins currently on the market are Peru and Portugal. A few products from Argentina are also present, but supply from this origin will intensify from December onwards. Moroccan blueberries will also arrive on the French market in December. Demand remains "normal for this time of year," according to a professional.
Italy: Abundant yields in Emilia-Romagna
The trend for blueberry consumption in Italy is positive and growing. Data show an increase of 11% between 2021 and 2022. Italian production has come to an end. At the moment, blueberries sold in Italian supermarkets come mainly from the southern hemisphere, such as South Africa, and are sold for between €16 and €20/kg, packaged in the classic 125g punnets. There is no shortage of promotions: one supermarket chain offers them for €1.99 per punnet.
A major producer in Emilia-Romagna says 2023 will be remembered as a good year in his region. Yields have been abundant at over 2.5 kg per plant. The main varieties are Duke, Titanium and Megas Blues. During the harvest, which ended a few weeks ago, prices started very well, even at wholesale, at over 7 €/kg. They then fell to €5.50-€6 when there were more quantities on the market. In direct sales, however, the price reached 15 €/kg for the best production.
Spain: Storm Bernard hits Spanish cultivation
The earliest blueberry plantations in Huelva are still in the growing phase. Storm Bernard, which hit the Spanish province of Huelva at the end of October, caused significant damage to the berry sector, affecting around 2000 hectares. Sudden wind gusts exceeding 100 km/h caused widespread damage to infrastructures and directly to the production. Although raspberries where the most damaged product as it was already in season, blueberries were also affected. Blueberry bushes are more vigorous than raspberry or strawberry plants, but the earliest varieties, which were already at an advanced stage this year, will be directly affected and volumes will be reduced. At the moment, blueberries are being mainly imported from Peru.
South Africa: Very positive blueberry market situation
The market situation is really favourable for South African blueberries and it is not expected that prices will come down any time soon due to the shortage of Peru – which has passed the peak of a much reduced crop.
“Things are looking really good for South African blueberries,” says an industry source, remarking that all markets – the UK, the EU, the Middle and the Far East – are stable.
The blueberry harvest in the north, marred by rain, is over. It has now moved to the Western Cape and a fair bit of fruit is expected over the coming few weeks. Exported volumes are running behind last year.
How much, is not exactly clear yet, but the Western Cape doesn’t appear to have a reduced crop.
“Blueberries suffered a lot,” says a shipping source, “rain has made things difficult, but because prices in Europe are so good and Peru is down, a lot was airfreighted to meet demand.”
In fact, more blueberries have gone by air this season than by sea, a return to the way things were some years ago. Last year, by week 44, just over 3 million tonnes had gone by air – this year almost 5 million tonnes of blueberries have been flown out. By contrast, 11.19 million tonnes were shipped by week 44 in 2022 and this year, that figure is 4.6 million tonnes.
Meanwhile South African consumers are revelling in inexpensive blueberries – 12 x 125g packets for R65 (3.25 euros) at one outlet – but the price is due to rise, opines a greengrocer.
North America: Much-needed blueberry supply coming on
Finally blueberry volumes are increasing on the North American market. El Nino affected a significant amount of Peruvian fruit that would normally ship to the U.S. in October-early November. Better markets in Asia and Europe also attracted the shipments that would have typically gone to the U.S. However, volume to North America is improving and it’s expected to go until February-March. Argentina began shipments in the middle of October and will finish in a few weeks. Very small volumes are already arriving from Chile. Strengthened supply starts in the second week of December up until the holidays. Mexico is also shipping blueberries largely to the Southeast and Southwest regions.
Meanwhile demand has been strong and pricing is approximately $15-$20 higher compared to last year at this time. Typically at this time of year, there’s a very tight market with a sharp decline in demand and pricing as Chilean imports ramp up and Peru hits its peak, this year that decline is still anticipated though it may not be as quick and rampant as in the past.
Next week: Global Market Overview Peppers!