In recent years, the blueberry acreage in the Spanish province of Huelva has grown strongly. Blueberries are tasty and offer countless health benefits, making the fruit more and more popular. One of the companies that has grown the most in the cultivation and marketing of blueberries is Coophuelva. The company is part of Onubafruit. This cooperative has an area of approximately 1200 hectares, with around 800 hectares having already reached the maximum production capacity.
Since mid-2018, Coophuelva also has the largest packaging lines for blueberries with optical sorting in Europe, with a processing capacity of 100,000 kg per day. FreshPlaza was granted access to the packaging center of this cooperative, which was founded in 1980 and currently has 140 active partners.
The company works with the blueberry varieties SnowChaser, Ventura, Emerald, Jewel, Star and Camelia. Moreover, they have their own variety program, which is already yielding its first results. This year, the cooperative will have blueberries all year round thanks to imports from countries such as Peru, Argentina and Chile.
"We will be marketing imported blueberries until about the first week of February. By that time, the quality of Chilean blueberries is already deteriorating and we are able to provide a constant supply of Spanish blueberries. This season, we expect 16 million kilos of Spanish blueberries," says Carlos Franco, coordinator of the technical department and quality manager at Onubafruit.
Europe and Scandinavia are the main destination markets for the cooperative, although they also make increasingly larger shipments to distant destinations, such as Hong Kong and Singapore. One of the main goals for Onubafruit is to reach the Chinese market. The implementation of the export protocols for this market is very slow.
"China is a country with a blueberry consumption culture. Even though it has extensive local cultivation and we also compete there with the blueberries from the United States, there is plenty of room for us on the market. Chinese importers look for blueberries with large sizes and an impeccable appearance. It is a market that appreciates quality products and offers good prices for it."
Carlos Franco shows us the difference between a ripe blueberry (left) and a blueberry that needs a few days to ripen (right).
Consumption in Europe is rising, especially in Germany and the United Kingdom. In other countries, such as France and Spain, however, blueberry consumption is growing only slowly. They are more conservative markets, where strawberries are still by far the most popular soft fruit. The company offers its blueberries in a variety of different packaging models and sizes.
"Blueberry cultivation has expanded very strongly in Huelva and will continue to grow in the coming years, although not at the same rate as in the past seasons. There are large volumes of blueberries available, so in order to keep growing with this product, the challenge lies in a better planning of the cultivation and of the varieties, both early and late."
"In the countries where the demand for blueberries has been growing for a number of years, consumers are becoming increasingly demanding. Just as we have become more specialized in the cultivation, processing and packaging of this fruit, the consumer is also increasingly becoming a specialist. The time when everything was good enough is gone," concludes Carlos Franco.