Economic upheaval creates questions about berry shipments to Europe

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

“So, internationally, we’re able to work with those customers to do promotions. Whether it’s POS, contests, some PR activity or tasting done at the retail level, that’s been a core part of our strategy in international markets.”

Japan is a solid market for blueberries, but other markets remain untapped, said Mark Villata, executive director of the U.S. Highbush Blueberry Council, Folsom, Calif.

“Taiwan is starting to come along, and (South) Korea is showing interest,” Villata said.

He said Taiwan had increased its U.S. blueberry imports from 40,000 pounds to about 164,000 over the last couple of years.

“They’re in tune with the whole health message. That’s what really helped it grow in Japan,” Villata said.

The U.S. shipped about 2 million pounds of fresh blueberries to Japan last year, Villata said, comparing that to the 1.1 million pounds exported to the U.K.

“Using Japan as a model, we could move a lot more fresh to Taiwan,” he said.

For the moment, South Korea remains primarily a frozen-berry market, with 567,000 pounds shipped there, but Villata said he expects a thaw.

“It’s looking promising,” he said. “A lot of retailers in Korea are interested in getting fresh into the market. So, we’ll have our fingers crossed.”

India had similar phytosanitary restrictions on fresh U.S. blueberries two years ago, but now U.S. fresh shipments are making it into the Subcontinent, Villata said.

“Last year, we got all the protocols in line, and now we’re shipping to India,” he said.

“It’s not a lot right now. But the potential in India is really great, given the size of the country. The wealthy class there is probably as large as the population of the U.S.”

Chris Christian, vice president of marketing for the Watsonville-based California Strawberry Commission, said strawberry exports totaled 241 million pounds last year.

Canada accounted for 83% of that, and its shipments increased by nearly 10% in 2009, Christian said.
“Our biggest market is Canada, with 83% of all California exports.”

China represents a potentially lucrative offshore market, with its 380 million middle class residents, but phytosanitary restrictions remain an obstacle, Christian said.

“We’re aggressively pursuing market access to mainland China,” she said.

“We started that process four years ago. We got temporary access in 2008, with the Beijing Olympics. We’re continuing to pursue that.”


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