Economic upheaval creates questions about berry shipments to Europe

05/07/2010 04:01:31 PM
Jim Offner

Tumult in Greece has shaken up the European Union economy, and U.S. berry shippers wonder how it will affect their business with the EU this year.

“Of course, the euro is going through some gyrations now, with Greece and Portugal,” said Frank Bragg, chief executive officer of Grand Junction, Mich.-based MBG Marketing.

“Europe has been traditionally a better place to get higher prices. I don’t know how long it’s going to take with Greece, in particular, so I don’t know that it will be as attractive this year.”

That berry shipments currently go to Europe via airfreight only complicates the scenario, Bragg said.

“It makes it difficult to move significant volumes, but it’s still a building market for us as an industry.”

The United Kingdom is the largest consumer of U.S. blueberries in Europe, but it still pales in comparison to consumption in any region of the American marketplace, Bragg said.

“There are plenty of development opportunities there,” he said.

As of May 3, the euro was trading at 1.32 to the U.S. dollar, more or less the same level as a year earlier but significantly below the 1.51 it reached in December.

Across the Pacific Ocean, opportunities may be stronger, even with air-transport restrictions, said Dave Riggs, president of Quail Run Business Solutions, Aptos, Calif.

“The demand for berries has been very good in Japan and Australia, and they’re working on getting access to China,” Riggs said, referring to strawberries.

The international market for cranberries, it can be argued, has been strong than the U.S. market, at least for fresh product, said Toby Stapleton, marketing director at the Cranberry Marketing Committee, Wareham, Mass.

He said U.S. cranberry shippers exported 54,000 barrels of fresh cranberries in 2007, 47,000 in 2008, and 51,000 in 2009.

“Especially in Germany, there has been interest by consumers and the trade around the holidays,” Stapleton said, but it’s important to maintain a proper perspective there, he added.

“Still, it’s only about 5% of total production,” he said.

International marketing efforts in Europe are ongoing, Stapleton said. He also said there are programs with retailers in South Korea.

“In South Korea, we did a contest with a major retail chain,” he said. “South Korea is a pretty good market for us now and that is holding some promise.”

Strategies are crafted to meld with an individual market, Stapleton said.

“Whatever our representatives on the ground feel will work in the markets, so in some markets — for instance, in Australia, we don’t have a retail effort, but in Japan, South Korea, and Germany, we do have a part of our effort that’s focused on retail,” he said.


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