Clemens Dittmeyer on the start of the French blueberry harvest

"The listing with Grand Frais was the initial spark for market access to the French food retail market"

On June 1, the first blueberries of this season were picked at the French location of Dittmeyer's Frucht-Plantagen Ltd & Co. Since the late 80's, the Dittmeyer company has been engaged in blueberry cultivation in the pine forests south of Bordeaux. The plantation called 'Domaine des Myrtilles' encapsulates some 90 hectares. Managing director and 'blueberry producer from the very beginning' Clemens Dittmeyer, talked to us about the development of the French blueberry market.

Despite its geographical proximity to the French domestic market, blueberries grown there were for many years considered mainly an export product. "Then, about five years ago, we managed to get our blueberries listed with the 'Grand Frais' branch network. That was the initial spark for market access to French food retailers. Since then, we have reached the point where other food retail chains have expressed interest in our local blueberries. Nevertheless, with a total annual consumption of 6,000 tons, France still lags far behind Germany (with about 80,000 tons) and Great Britain (with about 65,000 tons)," says Dittmeyer.

Ewelina, Clemens and their daughter Pauline Dittmeyer; together they are at the helm of the family business.

Accordingly, domestic blueberry production is also limited, he continues. "Roughly speaking, the total area amounts to about 200 hectares, which is very little compared to the leading growing countries Spain with 4,000 hectares and Morocco with almost 5,000 hectares. With an area of 90 hectares, we represent about half of the total French blueberry production. At the same time as our berries, only Portuguese goods and the last, smaller quantities from Spain can be found on the shelves. We are now advising our retail customers to switch from Spain to local produce. We are helped by the fact that French consumers really value local products."

Fruit protection and variety selection
Nearly 500 tons will be harvested for the fresh market over the next six weeks. "By July 20 at the latest, we will bring the last batches to market," Dittmeyer says. In order to protect the soft fruit from the erratic and sometimes extreme weather in southern France, in recent years the company has invested heavily in protective measures. Dittmeyer: "Following the latest investments, a total of 24 hectares are now growing and thriving in tunnel systems and another 8 hectares are under frost protection irrigation. This represents over a third of our total plantation. We have now also come through the spring well, unlike previous years, and have been spared damage and losses."

In order to be able to cope with climate change in the future, the company is also relying on a broad range of varieties. According to Dittmeyer, it is teir motto to spread the risk. "A variety like Legacy is relatively sensitive to frost, but copes well with heat. As a rule, no single variety can be considered in isolation. In the early 1990s, for example, we had planted Patriot, then an established variety in Germany and the Netherlands, in France as well, but it didn't work at all there."

Blueberry production in southern France.

Gradual growth
Meanwhile, French grocery stores are trending toward larger containers, he said. "People are moving more and more away from 100-125 gram trays to 250 and 300 gram units, which we also want to actively push. We are also trying to move the market towards offering larger containers in the future, such as 500 grams or more, but we are not there yet. However, it is a question of time: the blueberry market is growing, but noticeably slower than in neighboring countries," Dittmeyer concludes.

Images: Dittmeyer's Frucht-Plantagen GmbH & Co. KG

For more information:
Clemens Dittmeyer
Dittmeyer´s Frucht-Plantagen GmbH & Co. KG
Langelohstraße 134a
D – 22549 Hamburg
Tel.: +49 40 809947-44
Fax: +49 40 809947-47

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