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The global blueberry market shows a varied picture this week, as some seasons come to an end, whilst some are yet to begin. In the Netherlands, an impending shortage looms from week 22 to 25 as Moroccan and Spanish blueberry volumes decline, resulting in a surge in prices. Germany, too, expects a scarcity of blueberries as Spanish and Moroccan supplies diminish, potentially leading to a shift towards smaller packaging options. Polish growers are closely monitoring the impact of night frosts on their crop, which could affect both volumes and berry sizes. On a positive note, Serbia anticipates a notable 15% increase in blueberry production for the upcoming season. Meanwhile, Spain's blueberry season is marked by lower production and higher prices, aggravated by water shortages. In South Africa and Zimbabwe, early blueberry seasons offer advantageous market opportunities. North America boasts robust supplies of high-quality blueberries, while Peru maintains its dominance in the Chinese blueberry market.

Netherlands: Severe shortage expected in market from week 22 to 25
Moroccan blueberry growers have had a very nice stable season on the Dutch market, where they were able to achieve fantastic pricing as the Spanish crop fell behind due to the cold front. Spanish blueberry production came into an uplift where 10-14 days ago it looked like the season would really burst in the Huelva region. However, this proved only short-lived as volume dropped off from Morocco. Spanish growers saw this happening and so prices are already shooting up as well. From a growers point of view: good pricing and good quality in a very stable (slightly upwards) market. 

“Morocco expects to load for another +- 2 weeks in low volumes and then it will be done. Spain is expected to continue for another week 4 and then it will also dry up. From week 22 to 25, there will be glaring shortages in the market with the price shooting up nicely again," a Dutch fruit trader expects.

Germany: Demand for blueberries unbroken despite inflation
The availability of Moroccan and Spanish blueberries is now declining somewhat, mainly due to the high temperatures in Spain. Many producers in Spain are already facing the end of the season, while the volume peak has also been exceeded in Morocco. The first larger quantities from Serbia and Romania are not expected until mid to late June, which is why a shortage of goods must be expected soon. "There will probably be goods, but it is possible that people will switch from 500g to 300g trays for 1-2 weeks," said one trader.

Early tunnel produce from domestic cultivation is expected to hit the market by mid-June, but market-relevant quantities will still not be available until a month later. Despite the cold and frost, the current harvest year is expected to be moderate. On the sales side, demand has been unbroken so far despite inflation. Inflation does not seem to affect sales so much as production in the broadest sense (cultivation, processing, packaging and logistics).

France: Spanish organic blueberries cheaper than usual
Currently, blueberries of Moroccan and Spanish origin can be found on the French market. The Moroccan campaign started 4 months ago, and has had some irregularities in terms of volume, but a generally okay quality and stable prices.

The Spanish organic campaign is set to end in 3 weeks. The quality was really good, and the last month of trade was also good in terms of prices (6-7 euros/kilo). It was also more interesting for some wholesalers in Rungis to work with Spanish organic production than conventional because the former was less expensive than the latter. 

The French blueberry season is yet to begin, with the first harvest predicted to arrive in July.

Poland: Effects of night frost on Polish blueberry season remain to be seen
In Poland, a promotional campaign has been implemented to educate consumers about the benefits of blueberries. The market has experienced rapid growth in imports, surpassing production and exports. Blueberry imports in Poland increased by 44% from 2020 to 2021, reaching 14,250 tonnes, with a significant proportion of Polish households now purchasing blueberries throughout the year.

Despite this positive growth on the Polish blueberry market, when it comes to the domestic season, there may yet be some issues, as Poland has had to deal with night frosts recently. It’s hard to predict what kind of damages these frosts will cause. Minus temperatures at night in May are very normal in this part of Europe and many growers simply monitor the situation, while using water sprinklers or foggers on fields. Ice cover on blueberry blossoms generated by water sprinklers or the artificial fog are like natural shields for blossoms, a protection from freezing. Growers prefer to evaluate the frosts and their effects after mid-May or even towards the end of the month, when night-time frosts come to an end.

Fewer buds on blueberry bushes or some slight correction of blueberry volumes caused by night-time freezes doesn’t actually have to be bad news for growers themselves. Quite the contrary, if the bush has fewer berries to feed it can lead to bigger sized berries. The weather will be a major factor in blueberry cultivation for a while to come, as the cycle of seasons is no longer as reliable as it once was. For sure growers have had some struggles in recent years, because winters tend to be very mild, then nature keeps on waking up too early and then cold temperatures come again.

Serbia: 15% increase in blueberry production expected
Growers are getting ready for the upcoming blueberry season, starting in early June with a 15% increase in production estimated from 6,500 tons last season (2022) to 7,500 tons expected this coming season. Serbia has not been affected by spring frost during early April with good sizing and quality and higher volumes expected according to reports.

Italy: Low prices despite fair demand
Italy currently has fair market demand, but rather low prices for blueberries. An operator from the north of Italy says that blueberry consumption is constant all year round now, with a peak in summer. The quality in this period is good, with Sicily, Spain, and Morocco as origins. The problem lies in the prices: for the past 20 days there has been a 30 per cent drop as low-priced product arrives from Spain, which also drags down the prices of the other origins.

The blueberry harvest in some areas of Sicily this year started a few weeks late, in mid-February, whereas it should have started in the first ten days of January and ended in June. Over the course of the season, recovery took place without any particular problems. From June onwards refrigerated produce from overseas will take over, so Sicilian production is not affected much by competition. Most Sicilian producers promote sustainable cultivation because they have extremely low pesticide use, practically zero residue.

Spain: Low production and high prices characterise Spanish blueberry season
The Spanish blueberry season has passed its peak and volumes are already decreasing. In general, the production has been lower than last year and the prices higher compared to the previous campaign. The volumes of Moroccan blueberries have already dropped significantly as its season comes to an end, which is resulting in higher demand from the Middle East and Southeast Asia for Spanish product, as well as in Europe. Therefore, prices are rising for Spanish blueberries, which are now benefitting from a small gap in the markets, as blueberries from Serbia, Poland, or Portugal are still starting and volumes are not yet big.

On the other hand, the water shortage is becoming a big preoccupation for berry growers in Huelva, the biggest soft fruit producing region in Spain. 25% of the water supply for irrigation has been cut off by the government as the water reserves are dramatically low and this could affect the production of this season right away, and so also for the coming season.

South Africa: Zimbabwe benefits from early blueberry season
The blueberry harvest has been running in Zimbabwe from mid-February, and has now started in the north of South Africa. Within the next two to three weeks, all producers in the north will be harvesting. Initial volumes will go to the local market where prices are “very, very good” this time of the year. Volumes will pick up and the price will correspondingly adjust over the coming months.

At the Johannesburg municipal market the average price for blueberries (sold in 125g punnets) is R236.31 (11.47 euros) per kg at the moment, going as high as R280/kg (13.6 euros).

The export season starts in August, when the Northern Hemisphere’s season ends. The total production for South Africa is estimated at 30,000 tonnes of which 25,000 tonnes are earmarked for exports.

In South Africa blueberry expansion has flattened; much of current planting is replacement of varieties. The growth lies in Zimbabwe with new expansion and plans for new projects with interest from overseas investors from the UK, USA, and the Middle East, as well as Zimbabwean farmers who are pivoting to blueberries.

“There’s definitely a lot of interest in planting blueberries in Zimbabwe,” confirms the technical advisor to one of the big blueberry concerns who own farms in the country. He says the blueberry acreage in Zimbabwe is estimated at between 400 and 600 hectares which could grow to close to 1,000 ha, much of it concentrated around Harare.

Zimbabwean blueberries are earlier than South Africa which gives them a lucrative early window on the South African market from March until June when volumes are high.

Southern Africa – there are blueberry plantings in Namibia and Zambia as well – all collectively compete against Peru, an exporter says, and as long as quality is high, it benefits the wider region.

North America: Blueberry quality and sizing strong
Supplies of blueberries in North America are strong. “Georgia is past its peak, wrapping up highbush varieties in the next week or so,” says one shipper. “We are loading new crop from North Carolina next week. It’s slightly later than expected, but with a particularly long season window, it has the potential to be the most extensive deal in the east.” 

Quality and sizing of the berries are off to a very strong start. 

As Georgia wraps up, North Carolina will continue supplying the East Coast through mid-July, with production also starting in New Jersey in early June. On the West Coast, blueberries will come from Mexico through May, then California will have a strong season from June through the end of August. “These lead into the Washington and British Columbia deals where we expect a very robust season. These regions will supply both East and West, with Peruvian product through the end of the year,” says the shipper.

As for demand, it’s strong on the East Coast, particularly with the domestic production. In the United States, blueberries have gained popularity among consumers, with a market penetration rate of 45% and sales volume of nearly $2 billion. According to a survey, 41% of US consumers consider blueberries their favorite fruit, highlighting their significance in the market.

Chile: Exports of blueberries set to drop 20%
Chile, facing challenges in variety renewal, is reevaluating its blueberry production and export strategies. The market share of Chilean blueberries globally is being affected by new producer countries such as Peru, Mexico, Morocco, and China. Chile plans to pursue new diversification strategies as the amount of exported fresh Chilean blueberries is expected to drop by 20%, from 110,000 tonnes to 87,000 tonnes, in the 2022-2023 season. 

Peru: Exports to Chinese blueberry market continue to grow
Peru, as the world leader in blueberry production and exports, increased production by 37.5% during Q1 of 2023. This is mainly due to an expansion in production areas. The country has also opened a raft of new markets during the past season to ensure the increased volumes are absorbed and the export split is spread more evenly to not overload markets and drive prices down. Peru is also the main supplier of the largest importer on the planet of this berry, China. In 2022, it sent to the Chinese market 35,890 tons of the 42,847 tons that China acquired, which represented an increase of 44.8% compared to the country's imports in 2021, according to USDA data.

In the 2022/23 campaign, China concentrated 16% of the export quota in the blueberry campaign with shipments of US$ 222 million, which represented an increase of 29% in the value of sales compared to the previous campaign with a price that reached US$ 5.92 per kilogram, managing to exceed that of the 2021/2022 campaign by up to 18%, adds a market report from the Peruvian consultancy Fresh Fruit.

The growth of Peru in the Chinese blueberry market has certainly been rapid. In 2018, its shipments totalled only 5,657 tons, representing 36.8% of the total exported; in 2019 it doubled its shipments, surpassing Chile as the largest supplier of blueberries to China, increasing its participation to 54%; And in 2022, according to a recent USDA report, shipments tripled compared to 2019, representing 83.7% of the total blueberries imported by China, where blueberry consumption is expected to grow steadily in the coming years.

"To expand the market share, blueberries from Peru arrive earlier and earlier on the Chinese market. The first batch of Peruvian blueberries during the 2022 season was on the shelves of the main high-end retail platforms in July. Due to the early launch of Peruvian blueberries and the massive launch of domestic blueberries in the same period, the market share of Canadian blueberries has been reduced. In fact, "as of 2020, Canadian blueberries have rarely appeared on the market."

Next week: Global Market Overview Cherries!