Asia becoming major player in Chilean blueberry deal - The Packer

Asia becoming major player in Chilean blueberry deal

10/24/2011 09:56:00 AM
Dan Gailbraith

The doors to China now are open to Chilean blueberries, and, combined with strong Asian and European shipments, that’s good news for the industry, shippers and marketing agents say.

According to the Chilean Blueberry Committee, the country shipped 69,300 metric tons of blueberries in 2010-11, including 58,300 to the U.S. However, shipments to Asia and Europe increased by 31% and 18%, respectively, last year, the committee reported. Berry volume exported to Japan was up by 45% and Hong Kong, 26%, the committee noted.

“There’s quite a bit of Asian demand for berries,” said Janice Honigberg, president of berry grower-shipper Sun Belle Inc., based in Washington, D.C. “They have definitely taken the health-benefits message to heart.”

North America remains the chief destination of Chilean berries, but other global markets are gaining, said Tom Tjerandsen, managing director for North America for the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, Sonoma, Calif.

“More than 80% of the exported fresh market blueberries from Chile are sent to North America,” he said. “This percentage continues to modestly decline as buyers in other parts of the world successfully compete for this prized fruit.”

Europe continues to be a prime destination for shipments, as well, Tjerandsen said.

“A promotion plan being fielded to support sales in Europe has proven to be remarkably effective in increasing sales,” he said. “The growers are continuing to voluntarily fund these market sales building campaigns.”

Europe is a “significant player” in the deal, said Keith Mixon, president of SunnyRidge Farm Inc., Winter Haven, Fla.

“They’re in the market, with 8% to 10% of production,” he said. “They’re hungry for berries, which is always a good thing.”

A flagging economy in Europe likely won’t change that dynamic, Mixon noted.

“It doesn’t seem to have any issue with it in the last six to nine months,” he said. “All berries continue to do well. I think they’re all bullish right now on what’s going on.”

Janice Honigberg, president of Washington, D.C.-based Sun Belle Inc., said economic factors could play some role in European shipments.

“At this moment, the dollar is rather strong. It could change in a heartbeat, but equivalent pricing is getting more expensive for them in Europe,” she said. “That could put a damper on demand, but generally the European demand is very good. It was quite good last year, and we expect it to stay robust.”

Chilean shipments to Europe this year likely will be similar to last year, with some adjustments possible because of economic factors, said Nolan Quinn, berry category director for the Vancouver, British Columbia-based Oppenheimer Group.

“They are offering the same prices but are looking for high quality,” Quinn said. “Since the euro has weakened against the U.S. dollar, we may see more volume targeted to the U.S. versus Europe than in 2010-11.”

Now China is part of the mix, with that country this year having granted phytosanitary approval for blueberry shipments from Chile after three years of talks, according to Chile’s Ministry of Agriculture.

“China is opening up, and global demand is good for the grower and will keep the price strong,” said Cindy Jewell, marketing director at Watsonville, Calif.-based California Giant Inc.

China’s entry into the Chilean berry deal enhances an increasingly vibrant Asian presence, said Brian Bocock, vice president of product management with Naples, Fla.-based Naturipe Farms LLC.

“Over the next five years, Asia is going to have a huge impact on blueberries,” he said. “There’s a lot of demand over there. South Korea, Taiwan, Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong — all of them bring a lot of opportunities.”

European and Asian demand are growing, but Chile likely will have ample supplies for everyone, said Tom Richardson, general manager of Giumarra Cos., Wenatchee, Wash., speaking for Giumarra VBM LLC, Littleton, Colo.

“It would seem that, at least for the next several years, increasing production will allow a fully supplied North America, as well as an ability to reach the emerging markets of the world,” he said.

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