As berries fill U.S. niche, domestic use remains lowArgentina"s blueberry export volume doesn"t approach that of Chile, but Argentina"s three growing areas are important sources for U.S. blueberry buyers as the deal transitions from British Columbia to Chile.

Argentineans themselves don"t consume much of the fruit.

Domestic annual consumption is less than 2,000 tons, according to an estimate from the Argentinean Blueberry Committee in Buenos Aires.

"It"s a cultural thing," said Ines Pelaez, committee manager.

Most of the blueberry plantations grow for export, not the domestic market.

Virtually no one has promoted blueberries in Argentina yet, she said, but that may change as the popularity of the berries increases and Argentine consumers learn about their health benefits.


Promotions in the U.S.

The weeks of Oct. 21 to Nov. 3 and Nov. 18 to 24 should see the greatest production, and while the Argentinean Blueberry Committee does not conduct promotions, exporters often work out deals with U.S. importers.

The committee plans to do limited advertising during the Produce Marketing Association"s upcoming Fresh Summit convention.

Naturipe Farms LLC, Estero, Fla., plans to promote Argentine blueberries from mid-October through November, said Jim Roberts, vice president of sales.

Promoting blueberries from Argentina can be a challenge.

"There"s a limit to what the market can bear at the kind of cost that Argentina needs to make money and be financially sound," he said.

That"s mostly because Argentina berries must be transported by air.

Changes such as the new, more lenient fumigation standards may help, he said. They may enable importers to bring fruit to the U.S. by boat, like Chilean importers.

"Then there will be some significant room for growth for Argentina," Roberts said.

Some new plantings already have taken place, he said, but many importers are adopting a wait-and-see attitude.


Demand growing

The Giumarra Cos., Los Angeles, includes a number of independent retailers among its customer base and has seen "steady growth in demand on a year-round basis" in the blueberry category, said Tom Richardson, vice president of global development.

Argentina provides continuity of supply for consumers from late September until early December, he said.

He attributes the health benefits of blueberries and more consistent availability for prompting the transition from niche purchases during a limited window in the past to a weekly purchase for many families today.

"Argentina fills the window between the domestic production and the beginning of the Chilean import season, and it gives consumers and retailers continuity of blueberries throughout the year without a gap," said Mike Parr, president of Team Produce International, Miami.

However, pricing tends to go up during the import season, he said.

"Consumption of blueberries is going up in double digits," he said. "They"re becoming much more of a commodity for the consumer to have in their household year-round."