Most Chilean blueberries end up in North America, something growers don’t expect to see change drastically in the next few years.
“Chilean blueberries are pivotal to achieve a year-round program, keeping the supply channel full ... through the fall and winter,” said Matt Giddings, category coordinator for The Oppenheimer Group, Vancouver, British Columbia.
Karen Brux, managing director of the Chilean Fresh Fruit Association, San Carlos, Calif., agreed.
“The U.S. is by far the largest export market for Chilean blueberries, and it will continue to be Chile’s main priority in 2014-15, with roughly 75% of total Chilean blueberry exports bound for North America,” she said.
However, as the industry adjusts and changes over the next few years, that could change.
In fact, Eric Crawford, president of Fresh Results LLC, Sunrise, Fla., expects the percentage of Chilean blueberries that ship to the U.S. to decrease.
“I’d say the big picture of fumigation is that if growers can ship to countries without fumigating, why would they ship to the U.S. instead?” he said.
Crawford said he thinks companies will begin focusing their priorities on other countries first, with U.S. orders being a secondary priority.
“They don’t want to fumigate any more of their production than is necessary, so I think we’ll see a continuing lower percentage of the overall production coming into the U.S.,” he said.
Of course, those changes aren’t likely to make a big change in the overall order of export destinations right away.
“The U.S. is still the largest market by far,” Crawford said.
Giddings agrees that even with some adjustments, the overall picture will likely look similar to the past.
“Over 50% of the Chilean crop was sent to the U.S. last season, and we expect the picture to be pretty similar this year,” he said.
Mario Flores, director of blueberry product management for Salinas, Calif.-based Naturipe Farms LLC, said there will likely be a large increase from last year’s total shipments.
“Many are anticipating we could see up to 65 million kilos of fresh product come to North America, which is way up from last year’s 47 million but similar to the 2012-13 season,” he said.
Others agree that even with competition, most of the deal will ship to the U.S.
“About 75% of the crop from Chile goes to the U.S. There are some other alternatives that will take berries without fumigation, but the majority of the crop is still going to go to the U.S.,” said Teddy Koukoulis, director of blueberry operations for Wish Farms, Plant City, Fla.
However, competing countries are seeing increased shipments.
“Central Europe and Asia are gradually increasing their demand, but the main market for Chile will continue to be North America,” Brux said.
Brian Bocock, director of product management for Naturipe, said Europe has a significant pull on the Chilean crop.
Asia is also seeing growth.
“Asia has increased significantly over the last three years,” Bocock said.
Giddings has also seen Asia as a growing market.
“Asia is emerging as a growth market for Chilean blueberries, though volumes being sent there are still comparatively modest,” he said.