The global blueberry market is characterised by what exporters and imports call persistently high prices, high demand and with some seeing lower but improving quality arriving compared to other seasons. Overall there is less fruit available from the world’s major blueberry producer, Peru, or from their South American counterpart countries of Mexico and Chile. This is mainly due to the climatic challenges that continued into the New Year.

The European markets of the Netherlands (where “persistently high prices” are being seen) Italy and Central to Eastern Europe are all seeing very high prices, while alternative sources, such as South Africa, were sought over the Christmas and New Year period. However, that country struggled to fully capitalise on this trend due to port inefficiencies and having to turn to the more expensive airfreight to meet the spike in demand.

North America is seeing increased supplies with above average pricing for blueberries. Portugal expects to have one of the best seasons so far. Morocco, which has managed to harvest despite challenging weather, will see peak volumes by the end of January.

Peru: Volumes remain down
Peruvian producers with, especially, traditional blueberry varieties continue to be short, with the latest statistics from the industry body ProArandanos up to week 50 of 2023, showing a 43% reduction in volumes to Europe for the 2023/24 season compared to the previous season. An exporter said they are seeing: “high prices and high demand with lower quality than in previous seasons.” Producers with old varieties are said to be struggling more, while those with newer varieties have seen a better response to the drier climatic conditions.

Chile: Lower volumes, but able to supply to meet demand
According to Chile’s Blueberry Committee peak shipment volumes were in the last weeks of December between Christmas and New Year. “Higher temperatures in the last two weeks of the recently ended year triggered faster ripening in those orchards that were close to harvest and this was felt in the greater output volume. Weeks 51 and 52 combined produced 20,507 tons, slightly more than was expected. This means an accumulated season volume of 33,888 tons until the last week of 2023, which was 31% less than last season,” states the committee.

Chile’s blueberries are currently coming mainly from the large Chilean producing areas, the Central-Southern zone that includes the Maule, Ñuble and Bio Bio regions. “Therefore the impact of the weather, both, over the delay seen before Christmas due to low temperature, as in the current acceleration, it manifests directly and strongly on the volume harvested and shipped. The total volume of estimated fruit for fresh export this season has not changed compared to their last review in December, which remains at 73,500 ton.”

Another Chilean exporter said this country’s lower volumes and delays are due to different reasons, “because of the delay of the earliest varieties, this volume came together with the varieties of the middle season. Also due to strong seas, some vessels were not allowed to come into the port, so the containers were rolled over to the vessels expected to arrive of the coming weeks. So, with all these factors together it is difficult to predict the market. We know there is less volume for the whole Chilean season, but we also know the market will be under pressure for arrivals due the high concentration of the volume, especially for weeks 3, 4, and 5.”

Netherlands: Blueberry prices remain persistently high
For several months now, blueberry prices have consistently remained elevated. "Peru is delivering good quality, but prices are persistently high, and there is only a limited supply available. The lingering effects of El Niño will continue to impact Peruvian production this year, according to a Dutch importer. "This year, we experienced weather-related challenges in October/November, and the phenomenon returned in December/January. Availability won't be straightforward even in the upcoming season. While it may not be as excessively hot as this year, I still anticipate significant shortages and high prices. Consequently, prices will remain at a high level, especially for this time of the year. Sekoya berries are fetching as much as 10.50 to 11 euros per kilogram, and even standard varieties are commanding prices around 9.50 euros. Despite this, demand remains strong. One might expect purchases to decrease significantly, but for many consumers, blueberries have become a staple in their daily diets."

Italy: Consumers buying 4% more blueberries
Currently, most of the blueberries consumed in Italy come from Peru and Chile. This was confirmed by a retail buyer responsible for around 200 shops in central Italy. Blueberries can be found on supermarket shelves all year round, but in spring and summer they come from Italy. Blueberries are the best-selling soft fruit. This is because it is the fruit that keeps best at home. Compared to the raspberry, for example, which is the second best seller, consumption is about three times higher. The 125-gram tray is the most popular, but in the summer 250-gram trays are also sold. A buyer said they purchase the product at prices between €1.50 and €1.70 per 125 gram tray. This is considered normal pricing. At the moment, the prevailing price for Peruvian blueberries in wholesale markets in northern Italy is €16.50.

In Italy, blueberries are bought mainly in the large cities of northern Italy, especially in the north-east. Supermarkets, already the main channel for blueberries, gained five per cent more shoppers last year, while discounters came in second, increasing their market share by three per cent. Although blueberry purchases in Italy increased by 4% in 2023, the average amount purchased per capita fell from 270 to 250 grams in one year. The declining quantities depend on inflation and lower consumer purchasing power. In total, 6.5 million Italian households buy blueberries.

Germany: Last shipments from South Africa and first large quantities from Chile in week 3
A berry trader from South Germany is expecting the last shipments from South Africa in calendar week 3, while the first main quantities from Chile will arrive during the same time. However, Chile is about two weeks late. Calendar weeks 4 to 7 will also see the first commercials with large formats. The price has remained constant to date and has also been at a high level over a long period of time. The prices in the last few weeks were probably that high because quantities from Peru were lacking. Peru is the largest producer of fresh blueberries, which is why the decline in quantity has shaken up the entire market, according to the trader. El Niño is mainly responsible for the situation in Peru. The El Niño effect is likely to continue in 2024. Producers are therefore adjusting their way of production accordingly.

In 2023, Peru had around 30 to 40 percent fewer quantities available than in the previous year. As a result, less Peruvian goods were available, but have been compensated by South African blueberries. Chile will probably also have 15 to 20 percent fewer goods, which also explains the two-week delay. Morocco and Spain are also late this year. Significant volumes are not expected before March. The demand for organic blueberries, which are mainly sourced from Chile, remains constant and with increasing production volumes, but not as much as in previous years. However, this is probably due to a lack of promotion. The organic segment is therefore growing more slowly.

Portugal: Expects to have one of the best seasons so far
The Portuguese blueberry harvest is planned to start in week 3 and one exporter is aiming at around 1600 tons of blueberries in 2024. There is a very strong demand, impacted not just by the lack of volume from Chile/Peru, but also from the fact that demand hasn’t stopped increasing over the past couple of years. So far, a slight increase in prices has been noted, which has to do with both the lower volumes from Peru and Chile, but also inflation in general. Portugal is expected to have one of the best seasons so far, not just in terms of kilos but also quality.

South Africa: Big demand from Europe, not fully able to capitalise
Europe was paying top dollar prices for blueberries during the latter part of 2023, an exporter observes, and South Africa stood ready to capitalize on an empty blueberry market.

Exporters could barely satisfy the demand, as exportable volumes were down on last year. Unseasonal rains had caused quality issues, and on the domestic market blueberries were sold at prices unimaginable five years ago. Delays at South African ports stuck a spoke in the wheels at times (over Christmas and New Year again) and almost half of exported blueberries were air-freighted.

“The only way we could afford to airfreight was because Peru’s production collapsed and the Panama Canal is such a shocker,” remarks a logistics agent, adding: “South Africa was the only supplier of blueberries at that stage.”

During the 2022/2023 season almost 85% of South Africa’s blueberries went out by ship; for the past season that dropped to 55.8% due to strength of demand and a desire to avoid South African ports.

“If they could've used seafreight to the extent that they could the year before, South Africa would have capitalized big-time.” As it is, the source continues, growers did receive liveable returns this year, welcome news to an industry buffeted by adversity since Covid.

Exports have mostly ended, and by week 52 (final figures are not yet available) South Africa exported almost 21,000 tonnes (a 13% decrease on the previous year), of which about 17,000 tonnes went to Europe and the UK (4,200 tonnes fewer than during 2022/2023).

Trade elsewhere, such as in the Middle East, in the Far East/Asia, the Indian Ocean islands and Russia showed an uptick.

Spain: Delay in the start of the Spanish campaign
In Huelva the blueberry campaign is behind schedule, as is the case with strawberries. “This year our forecast is that it will be a good year for blueberries, similar to last year, with good prices even though production was not very high. The only thing we hope is that the varieties arrive on time so that production does not come together and we can avoid pressure on supply, although it is still too early to know what will happen.”

"However, having our campaign delayed a little is going to be very good for us, because Peru has entered later this year and this will prevent us from entering the market competing directly with them," says an operator in the sector.

North America: Blueberry supply picking up
Blueberry supply is improving although it is still tight because the Chilean crop overall is down between 20-30 percent. Production out of Chile started slow but is picking up now.

Supply of Chilean blueberries were received in North America earlier this year because shippers were trying to catch a good market, one that was very good at the beginning of December. However, while the quality wasn’t as strong then, it’s improving now. Shipments should continue into March though peak supply will begin at the beginning of February.

Peru’s crop is also down this season by approximately 30 percent due to the El Niño winter, though its shipments have increased over the last three weeks. Colombia is also moving some blueberries as is Mexico. As for demand in North America, it’s strong because during the Peruvian season, the price was so high that retailers couldn’t go on ads. Those ads are starting now to absorb incoming volume.

All of this is leaving pricing above average. The market will likely come down a bit but it’s fairly stable and anticipated to stay that way through the season.

Morocco: Peak volumes expected at the end of January
The first harvests took place at the end of December in the Loukkos/Gharb axis (northwest of the country), which is the main production area in Morocco, and earlier in the Souss Massa region. The peak of volumes is anticipated at the end of January. An exporter says, "The produce is of excellent quality and diverse sizing, promising a good campaign." The acreage dedicated to berries in Morocco has risen by almost 30% this year, as reported by industry insiders. This increase is a result of a significant number of growers switching from strawberries to blueberries and blackberries.

Production conditions were difficult, mainly due to storms and an unstable climate. But it was possible to maintain good yields with more irrigation, according to the same source.

In terms of prices, the exporter says, "There is still a lot of uncertainty, and it is still too premature to establish an average price. Nevertheless, farm-gate prices have never fallen below those of the previous season, despite daily fluctuations."

Morocco is currently benefiting from a period of low competition in the international market, as the Peruvian calendars are ending, and Spain will not enter the market until March.

Next week: Global Market Overview Apples