Hortifrut sees opportunity in Mexico's berriesGUADALAJARA, Mexico – Blueberry grower-shippers at the first Aneberries AC congress said production in Mexico could surge if high-yield varieties are obtained and food safety challenges are met.

Victor Moller, chairman of Santiago, Chile-based Hortifrut SA, and Mark Hurst, president of Sheridan, Ore.-based Hurst’s Berry Farm, joined Mario Steta, the trade association’s president, for a panel discussion Sept. 30. It was the closing day of the Aneberries congress in Guadalajara, Mexico.

“We are working in our company to make Mexico an enormous export player,” said Moller, who’s also a board member at Naturipe and the Produce Marketing Association.

If that goal materializes, blueberries could repeat or exceed Mexico’s success with blackberries. Its exports accounted for the bulk of a 28.9% increase in blackberry volume in the U.S. earlier this year.

But hopes for blueberries could vanish like a dream if challenges aren’t met, Moller said.
“You need to invest a lot,” he said. “You need to work hard to get access to varieties. For me the first condition is to get top quality genetic material.”

High yields help supply globalized buyers, Moller said, and can contribute to stable prices. For example, when the frozen price was in the $2 per pound range a few years ago, it was a mixed blessing for growers.

“So in 2006 to 2008, the frozen price for blueberries went up and the fresh people started to look,” he said. “But when the frozen price got to an interesting figure, big buyers stopped buying.”

Ideally that price would hover around $1.30-1.60 to keep blueberries affordable for consumers and profitable for growers, Moller said.

Hurst and Moller said Aneberries, the new trade association, can coordinate volume information and help resolve the other top challenge — food safety.

Hurst cited recent deaths in Colorado from a listeria outbreak in cantaloupes.

“We’re only one food safety problem away from a decline in consumption,” he said. “Aneberries can be instrumental in requiring all berries have a certification to be exported.”

“We have to show that this association can handle the problem of food safety,” Juan Ferrari Pallomari, Mexico chief executive officer of Naturipe by Hortifrut, told the panelists.

The panelists dismissed any concern that the long-term expansion in berry production in the U.S., particularly in California, might deprive Mexico of a market.

“Have we hit the saturation level in the market? No way,” said Hurst. “We have a long way to go.”

“Every year we see an increase in consumption,” said Steta.

Aneberries AC is Mexico’s recently formed National Association of Berries Exporters. The final day of the meeting also featured sessions on sustainability, food safety and the processed market.