Mexico blackberry growers, exporters discuss new marketsGUADALAJARA, Mexico — Increased consumption and new markets are top priorities for the expanding Mexican blackberry industry, according to growers and shippers.

About 450 people attended the second international congress of Aneberries A.C., or National Association of Berries Exporters, in Guadalajara Oct. 3-5 — up around 50% from last year.

Many said they worry Mexico is near the point of overproduction on blackberries in spring and winter months.

Alfredo Javier Buenrostro of Agricola Valle Paraiso, a blackberry grower, recalled unhappy memories of one price drop — $4 to $1.60 per pound — in Michoacan.

“We could get to the point where planting and harvesting blackberries is not profitable anymore,” he said through a translator.

Managing that crop has been a problem, according to Mario Steta, Aneberries president, also speaking through a translator.

“We haven’t found a way to avoid the peaks,” he said. “We might see another in November.”

“The blackberry supply is very challenged as there are so many different entities involved,” he said.

Mexico blackberry growers, exporters discuss new marketsMichael Hollister, vice president of sales and marketing for Driscoll Strawberry Associates Inc., Watsonville, Calif., said the number of blackberry varieties in Mexico makes it a challenging segment.

“If you plan to grow, do it with an understanding of what consumption will be and the impact of oversupply,” Hollister said. “Aneberries could probably help us organize the supply curve so we could better communicate with one voice.”

Mexico had 19,647 hectares (about 48,550 acres) in the four major berries last year. About 57% was in blackberries and 36% in strawberries. Volume on all berries was 386,000 tons; 64% came from Michoacan.

Overall production rose 147% from 2000 to 2011. Volume could easily double again in the next five or six years, Steta said.

Where will it all go?

Domestic consumption is a target, but so are new markets. Steta recently returned from a Hong Kong trade show, and Mexico-China Chamber president Ricardo Antonio Vaca Uribe said it’s vital to look beyond the U.S. and Canada.

“What can force us to start putting our eggs in another basket?” Vaca Uribe through a translator. “China has 10% of the world’s cultivatable land but has to feed 20% of the world’s population.”

Mexico’s secretary of agriculture, Francisco Mayorga, said it’s essential to broaden markets — for all commodities.

“Sometimes when we concentrate exports too much to the U.S. — now it’s tomatoes, before it was avocados and others — then it creates a political problem,” Mayorga said through a translator. “We need to diversify our markets, and not only in tomatoes.”

Mayorga, who was already planning a trip to China, got some not especially subtle encouragement from Steta to add berries to his agenda there.

Robert Verloop, executive vice president of marketing for Naturipe Farms LLC, cautioned against a limited view of new markets.

“There are geographic markets, but there are also channels of distribution,” he said. “We’re continuing to see more growth opportunities, especially for blueberries, blackberries and raspberries, in foodservice.”

There’s a premium on quality in foodservice, Verloop said, and the importance of precooling fruit in the field is not widely enough appreciated by suppliers. Naturipe supplies McDonald’s with individual blueberry snack packs for oatmeal.

“As growers we do a great disservice to quality not because of genetics but because of the way we handle our products,” he said. “If we can fix that right from the beginning, it would make a great difference.”

Growers can make volume spikes less painful by focusing on the run-up, Verloop said.

“Six weeks before that peak hits, are we sending consumers great-tasting fruit?” he said, linking flavor to repeat sales. “If we coordinate with the buyers we can anticipate these peaks and make sure the velocity of the marketplace is going long before they hit.”

Speakers at the event included Mark Murai, president of the California Strawberry Commission, and Ed Treacy, vice president of supply chain efficiencies at the Produce Marketing Association.

The theme for the Aneberries congress was responsible production. Sustainability and labor were among the topics.