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Blueberries, Grapes, Mangoes

"Everyone was talking about a big El Nino, but for grapes I don't see a big issue"

The Peruvian blueberry export is still going strong. Rob Cullum from Pacific Produce, the European marketing arm of Peruvian producer La Calera, said they could keep supplying the European market through January and February. "We have programs set up until Christmas, although we may continue to ship in January and February depending on what Chile does. Argentina have been experiencing big quality problems this season and the Chilean season is running later than normal and are having issues with the weather."

The blueberry export from Peru is still in its infancy, but according to Cullum things are going well so far. La Calera have partnered with Talsa for blueberry production and expect the total area to reach over 1000ha within a year. This is a huge expansion, a year ago they had only 350ha in production.

Peru has huge tracks of land which can be reclaimed for agriculture providing there is irrigation, infrastructure and labour. The government is setting up irrigation projects on this land to make it viable for agriculture and big companies such as Talsa are investing heavily in these projects.

The main markets for the blueberries are the EU, UK, North America and Asia. "The advantage of the blueberry is that it is a global product, with not only big demand for fresh fruit but also many uses when processed, for example yoghurt, frozen etc. There are a lot of options," explains Cullum.

Peru grows varieties similar to other South American countries, but also have some different ones. Peru has less chilling hours and growers are still selecting and trialling varieties.

"The key is the length of our season, we could do 12 months if we wanted to, but we do not want to clash with Northern Hemisphere season," explains Cullum. "Due to our long season we have the advantage of being able to seafreight the blueberries when others are still airfreighting, that said we do airfreight sometimes if the market demands it. But we see ourselves being only seafreight in the longterm, this will have many advantages such as cost and environmental benefits."

La Calera have two grape growing operations, one in Piura in the north and in Ica in the south. Piura is almost finished packing seedless and red globes for the season, while Ica just started packing and will run through January. The production from Piura is aimed to Europe and that from Ica goes to Asia and the US. This avoids direct competition with Namibia and South Africa, which are the traditional and main suppliers to the European market.

"At the start of the season Brazil is our direct competitor in Europe for whites and late Northern Hemisphere product for reds," states Cullum.

"Everyone was talking about a big El Ninio, but for grapes I don't see a big issue. Still a lot of people wanted to go early just in case the rains came. I see Peru having good volumes of good quality large crunchy fruit better than some of the other Southern Hemisphere producers."

Peru will have an increase in volume this year, mainly due to new plantings.

The various markets demand slightly different fruit, the US tends to want the big grapes whereas Europe, especially the UK prefer the smaller sizes. The big berry tends to get a premium in most markets apart from the UK retail. A lot of this down to traditional packaging, the UK like to pack into punnets of 500g and the big berries simply do not fit. The US packs into standup pouches or clamshells of up to 1.8kg.

Asia has always been the leading market for La Calera, as it was one of the first customers for the red globes. Europe has increased the market share as the seedless varieties became more important.

With Namibia planting hundreds of hectares for the Asian markets and South America also increasing plantings aimed at the East, is this sustainable? Will the market eventually collapse?

"Only the fittest will survive," according to Cullum. "This is the challenge, companies need to be big and efficient, the market will decide who wins. Eventually there will be over supply, whether it is in one variety or one market. It will depend on your variety mix, technical ability, quality and efficiency. There are also variables which no one can control such as the weather and currency, for example at the moment currency is playing in to the hands of the South Africans. The future is definitely for the big producers who can adapt to the changes."

The Peruvian Mango season is just starting now. Cullum says it looks like it will be a normal season, last year was an off season. "The fruit is looking good and healthy, and the taste is good."

He predicts a steady season, but says it is too early for price predictions. "People always look for crazy prices at the start of the season, but we as a big player, need to look at our programs. The big shadow on the season is the prospect of rain, and how much will it rain. The positive thing is that predictions of a big El Nino are going down by the day and the chances of a lot of rain are going down. The quality will depend on the rainfall. The mango is produced in different areas so a lot depends on which areas get the rain and when. To contradict this every day I read another report stating that El Nino will still be big..... let’s just say that we have to get on with planning and programming and make decisions if and when events take place!"

The varieties grown are around 90% Kent with some Keit, the fibrous varieties are being removed by most producers. "Our main markets are the EU, North America and Japan. Japan is a relatively new market but it will become very important to Peru. Korea just opened for Peru and hopefully China will be next."

More mangoes are being planted to fill the new markets, but according to Cullum, the mango is a very unpredictable and a high risk investment so the planting will not be on a smaller scale to blueberries or grapes.

For more information:
Robert Cullum
Pacific Produce
+44 (0) 1865877801

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