Although there’s still production in the UK and several areas the USA, the blueberry seasons in both Europe and North America are coming to an end.
Volumes have been good throughout the entire season, although the poor weather could cause a reduced shelf life and the United Kingdom struggled with labour issues throughout this season.
Production in southern hemisphere countries including Peru, Chile and South Africa is starting up with peak volumes yet to arrive.
The Netherlands: After a European season full of ups and downs, the overseas berry season got off to a good start
“The European season has really come to an end. The season had ups and downs in both quality and price”, reports a Dutch trader.
A short, but powerful peak from Poland/Serbia caused considerable pressure on the Dutch grower. This in combination with heavy rainfall in the Netherlands did not make things any better for the local growers.
The Polish and Serbian season displayed very good quality without any problems, big promotions in the whole European retail sector helped to get rid of volume.
“For us, the Peruvian season had already started three weeks ago, Peru is currently showing good quality fruit that represents a high value in the market. From week 39-40, South Africa will bring its berries to the market which will lead again to a peak between week 43-46 with a run-off into week 47.
“Expectations are that we will see a nice price formation until week 41, and after that we will see a decline because of the many promotions that are planned. Onwards from week 47, there will be an increase in prices again,” said the importer.
In summary, the next twelve weeks will be an exciting period, which will show what the consumption per capita is to get rid of the volumes.
An important cooperative, which has producers from the north to the south of Italy, reports that the blueberry campaign began in February in Calabria and Sicily regions and will end in Trentino at the end of September.
As for the quality of the product, a good season has been recorded, even if the spring frosts caused damage mainly to the product in northern Italy, while the great heat of late May-June affected the final phase of production in Sicily and Calabria.
Last but not least, the rainy month of July had a significant impact on the shelf life of the product in Trentino.
Prices were up sharply compared to 2020, when the outbreak of the pandemic had affected purchases. In addition, thanks to new packaging and zero residue blueberries, it was possible to overcome the strong foreign competition. Among the most popular varieties there are Ventura, Duke, Last Call, Cargo and Atlas Blue.
One grower from Val di Non says that he had a good harvest. With 650 plants, he harvested 1.6 tons of fruit and the price was satisfactory, up from 2020. He grows in pots (soiless) and protects the plants with hail nets.
The UK season started a bit late due to poor weather in May, but yields have been good. The season has not been without its challenges as volumes have been good throughout north eastern Europe too. Also, Southern Hemisphere production has already started to arrive on the market.
The production from northern Europe will start to drop away from now, but UK production will continue with the same volumes until October.
Although the British blueberry does not have the iconic status of the strawberry or asparagus the British consumer will choose a British blueberry over imported ones. As more home-grown fruit becomes available consumer awareness of the product increases.
Labour has been a challenge this season. It is hoped that the seasonal workers pilot scheme will be made permanent, growers would not have got through the season without it this year. They are now in uncertain territory as to what will happen next year.
As the Australian blueberry season ramps up, prices at a retail level have fallen to as low as $2 a punnet.
It comes as the industry announces that its marketing strategy will focus on “engaging existing buyers to maintain and increase purchase”, according to the spring edition of the Australian Berry Journal.
It added that an integrated strategy will be used, and the advertising spend will focus on social and digital channels, building on the successful “Bl’oo’berries” campaign in the past three seasons.
The Australian season runs from July to March, with peak production coming from New South Wales, before the southern states start their seasons in December/January.
The latest figures from Hort Innovation showed that 20,783 tonnes were produced in the year ending June 2020, which is an increase of nine per cent in volume from the previous year.
At the same time, value of Australian blueberries jumped 15 per cent to $389.6million.
By the end of week 35, South Africa had exported 1,416.17 tons, 81% of that by sea. Exports started with air freight in week 25.
Most of that (677.29 tons) went to the European Union (mostly to The Netherlands and Spain), followed by the UK (430.76 tons).
South East Asia (Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia) received 171.87 tons, the Middle East (mostly the UAE) almost 110 tons and Thailand just under 10 tons.
Growers in the Cape say the plentiful rain and winter cold, coupled with highly unusual occurrences of hail in some regions, has made this a challenging season.
Port congestion and vessel delays have also complicated shipping; exports to the Middle East are still dominated by air freight.
On the domestic market, volumes to the markets have increased markedly and prices fell to (last week) R41.72 (2.48 euro) per kg.
USA: Supplies of blueberries are lighter this month.
Domestically, there are still some supplies of berries from growing regions in the U.S. and Canada but those are being kept close to their origin because they don’t have the legs to travel.
As for Mexico, it officially started with blueberries the first week of September. “But there’s been availability since early August,” says one grower/shipper.
“Those supplies are mainly kept for the domestic market in Mexico because it pays well compared to U.S. and Canadian prices. But as soon as fruit from Oregon and B.C. starts to have a problem in terms of quality, importers and retailers look to Mexico.”
He notes that while Mexican blueberry supplies are currently light, next week until mid-November increasing volumes will arrive. Overall Mexico continues to build on its blueberry production.
Peru is also shipping blueberries currently and fruit is available in states such as Florida and Philadelphia.
The dominant growing region in the early season will be Peru and they have more volume this year. Argentina also has some fruit available but it’s limited volumes.
As for demand, blueberries (like most berries) continue to grow in consumption with consumers.
“Foodservice is also set to bounce back on blueberries. So we’re thinking that it will be a good year in terms of demand,” says the grower/shipper.
“But it comes down to retailers and shippers to plan well for sales to move the volume in the right time.”
That leaves September and October a good market in terms of pricing. November to February is usually the lowest point in pricing because of the volumes of blueberries that come in from Peru and Chile.
But if shippers and retailers do the right job to move the volume and promote the fruit when it’s needed, then pricing shouldn’t suffer.
Currently pricing is similar or slightly higher than this time last year. Looking ahead, the next few weeks will continue to see increasing volumes of blueberries from both Mexico and Peru, and to meet those volumes will be a continuing, healthy demand.