(UPDATED COVERAGE, Nov. 1) ANAHEIM, Calif. — The two biggest blueberry exporters in South America are one, and that should bring many more imported berries under Naturipe’s sales banner in the U.S.
Announced Oct. 26 at Fresh Summit 2012 Hortifrut S.A., one of the partner-owners of Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, merged with Santiago-based Vital Berry, the second-largest berry grower-exporter in South America. The companies primarily export blueberries but also handle blackberries and raspberries.
Nicolas Moller, chief executive officer of Hortifrut Chile S.A., Santiago, said Oct. 26 at the Produce Marketing Association’s Fresh Summit in Anaheim that the merger came together over the past couple of months.
“We found common ground very easily,” he said.
With an estimated combined business of about $300 million, he said the merged company should be able to serve customers in North America with more volume in the winter.
A quarter of the Hortifrut shares go to the grower-owners of Vital Berry, Moller said.
“We are delighted with the opportunity of joining Hortifrut and be part of Naturipe Farms sales and marketing organizations,” Andres Solari, chairman of the board for Vital Berry Marketing S.A., said in a news release.
The merger allows Naturipe to better serve retail and foodservice customers in North America, said Robert Verloop, Naturipe’s executive vice president of marketing.
He said existing packaging for Vital Berry may be used up before a complete transition to Naturipe packaging in the U.S.
Vital Berry and Hortifrut did not reveal annual volumes of shipped berries, but Expordata Yearbook 2012 indicates that Hortifrut exported 3.8 million cases, and Vital Berry exported 2.6 million cases of Chilean fruit to all markets in 2011-12. No data was available for exports from Argentina, Mexico or other countries, but Chile accounts for about 60% U.S. blueberry imports.
Much of the berries that will come to Naturipe will be come from production from Vital Berry’s own land, Verloop said.
“Today more and more retailers and foodservice operators want to deal direct with the source and for us this gives a larger grower-owned base,” Verloop said.
He said imported berries from the Southern Hemisphere will increase in November and December and in January and February.
“We’re encouraging our key customers to look at having blueberries as a heavy promotional item right after the new year with the focus being on healthy lifestyles,” Verloop said.