Blueberries from Ukraine: in-depth analysis of prices, production and export trends in 2023

The blueberry season in Ukraine is almost over, although some market participants continue to sell the remaining products. Therefore, EastFruit analysts decided to summarize the preliminary results of the 2023 season, which, despite the expectation of disaster, did not turn out to be so bad.

This graph shows that wholesale prices for blueberries in Ukraine in 2023 were still relatively low, although, at first glance, they did not appear to be historical lows. Last year, in 2022, they periodically fell even below this year. Since the exchange rate has not changed significantly during the year, the situation is similar in US dollars.

However, when estimating the average price it is necessary to take into account the sales volume in different periods. Therefore, it is more interesting to look at how the sales price changed month over month. And here, as can be seen in the graph below, the lowest prices were observed precisely during the period when blueberry production volumes peaked in Ukraine, that is, in July.

In July 2023, blueberry prices in Ukraine reached a record low for this month of 4 US dollars per kg. They were lower than last year by 21% and lower than the US dollar average of the last five years by 31%.

Therefore, it was this key month that had the main influence on the formation of the average price for the entire season. Consequently, according to our estimates, the average price of blueberries for the entire season in Ukraine stood at a record low level of US$4,7 per kg. According to EastFruit, this price was 2% lower than last year and 22% lower than the average of the last five years.

Debate continues among Ukrainian blueberry growers about what is better: harvesting the berries as early as possible or focusing on later varieties. When do the price of berries really go up?

Fortunately, EastFruit keeps careful records of this data, so the answer to this question can be obtained from the graph below. An important point is worth noting: the market is constantly changing. If a market niche emerges somewhere, new entrants immediately jump into it. Therefore, analyzing the situation based on prices from previous years does not guarantee that this scenario will be repeated in the future.

As we can see in this graph, there are no clear trends in blueberry prices. There is a clear upward trend in the wholesale price of super early deliveries. However, as a rule, June blueberries are sold in relatively small quantities on the domestic market. As volumes increase, this price may drop significantly, but the price level shows the excellent opportunities that investors have to develop blueberry production in the southern regions of the country, where there is currently no significant blueberry production.

Just look at the following data: on average, over the past five years, wholesale prices for blueberries in June were 2,1 times higher than in July. Therefore, when growing blueberries in the southern regions of Ukraine, with the same investments, income can be almost doubled! By the way, Georgian blueberry growers are working in the same temporary niche, constantly updating export records and soon they could even surpass Ukraine in export volumes.

Since most of the blueberry harvest in Ukraine is sold in July, this month marks the annual drop in average wholesale prices. However, July prices are still higher than August average wholesale prices. Obviously, the main reason is that the demand for blueberries in August seasonally decreases on the domestic market, and on the foreign market Ukraine has a serious competitor - Poland. In addition, Ukraine exports significant volumes of blueberries through Poland. By the way, blueberry prices in August also have a downward trend. However, this is a global trend for blueberries, whose prices are falling every year everywhere, stimulating growth in consumption.

Blueberry prices in September are not very indicative, because in September the supply and demand for the berry falls sharply. Prices are rising at the moment and imported blueberries are also appearing on the Ukrainian market, often from countries in the southern hemisphere, where the season is expanding. However, in September prices are again higher than in August, although in 2022 September prices practically did not increase compared to August.

Have Ukrainian blueberry growers made more money?

If the price of blueberries is lower than a year ago, then obviously the profitability should be lower. However, this is not always the case.

The fact is that many Ukrainian berry growers are barely reaching the maximum yield of their plantations, so their production volumes are increasing every year. And if the volume of blueberry harvest increases, then, as a rule, the operating costs of the crop decrease.

However, there is another factor that must be taken into account: inflation. If it was ignored before, now it is simply impossible not to take it into account.

Annual dollar and euro inflation through 2021 was around 1% or less, so it could be ignored in the price analysis. However, in 2021 dollar inflation jumped to 4,7%, and in 2022 it was completely shocking, showing an incredible 8%. The situation with the euro was not better: in 2021 inflation reached 2,55% and in 2022 8,83%.

What does this mean in real numbers? If we take the average wholesale price of premium blueberries in Ukraine for the 2023 season, which, we recall, amounted to 4,7 US dollars per kg and remove from the price the inflation indicators of the last two years, then in 2021 the prices will be equivalent to approximately $4,1 US dollars per kg. Recall that in 2021 the average wholesale price of blueberries in Ukraine was 5,9 US dollars per kg.

So how much has the real price of blueberries in Ukraine fallen in two years? The nominal price decreased by less than 20%, but the comparable real price fell by 30%! This means that the real income of blueberry producers in Ukraine has decreased significantly, requiring them to be more efficient to maintain their income levels.

And this is without considering all the difficulties that Ukrainian farmers faced during the Russian aggression against Ukraine. After all, it is now even physically difficult to find enough people to harvest blueberries, not to mention the rapidly increasing labor costs. There is also a huge shortage of qualified specialists, agronomists, engineers, etc. And these problems, unfortunately, may get even worse in the near future.

Is it worth investing in growing blueberries in Ukraine?

Given the constant decline in the level of income of blueberry growers, the question of the attractiveness of investments in this business constantly comes to the fore. After all, we cannot accurately predict the future development of this market. Of course, we understand that in war conditions investments always decrease drastically, but today we will not take this factor into account in the analysis.

“There are several obvious points that must be taken into account when making a decision on investing in blueberry cultivation in Ukraine. The first is that further development of blueberry production in Ukraine will only be possible through increased exports. This means that the producer must have: a) the minimum volume required for exports; b) high quality products; c) investment opportunities in exports,” he states. Andriy Yarmak, economist at the Investment Center of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) .

A striking example of how to effectively organize the production and export business of blueberries is the case of the company Nikdaria (TM iBerry), which now supplies directly to supermarket chains in three EU countries .

“Each investor should evaluate how many hectares of blueberries he needs to have to harvest between 15 and 20 tons of blueberries in 2 or 3 days. Furthermore, to get a good price it is necessary to have the ability to quickly optically sort and package all these products and, of course, the ability to quickly cool and store the blueberries. Naturally, in the first years, while production volumes are small, it is worth trying to work with supermarket chains in the domestic market to resolve all aspects of product quality management,” explains the expert.

As for the new forecasts for the development of the world blueberry market, Andriy Yarmak considers them to be quite good.

“In my personal opinion, blueberry consumption in the world will grow faster than that of other fruits and berries. This is a very convenient berry for consumers, which can be stored for a long time, has a pleasant taste and, among other things, is also considered very healthy. However, greater growth in blueberry consumption will only be possible by reducing their nominal prices, at least in those countries where blueberries are still quite expensive,” predicts the FAO expert.

In his opinion, the development of blueberry production in Ukraine has advantages and disadvantages.

“On the one hand, blueberries are a berry that can be grown anywhere in the world. And this is bad news for Ukraine, because competition will increase. For example, in the countries of Central Asia, one might say, blueberries are not grown at all and prices there reach 40 dollars per kg. However, it cannot be ruled out that in 5-7 years this berry will begin to be exported and competition will begin to create in the world market. On the other hand, Ukraine, thanks to its climatic conditions, can produce berries of the highest quality, which can help achieve a higher price. But so far no special efforts are noted on the part of market participants to invest in marketing, which is essential for achieving high prices. Furthermore, the market window in which blueberries will be able to be harvested in Ukraine is quite good in terms of potential competition in the market. Besides,

 Ukraine blueberry exports in 2023

What will be the size of Ukraine's blueberry exports in 2023? It is too early to summarize the results of the season, but we can say with confidence that the record of Ukrainian blueberry exports will be updated again in 2023.

In 2022, Ukraine exported more than 2,5 thousand tons of fresh blueberries and this season, according to our estimates, exports may exceed 3 thousand tons for the first time. According to preliminary estimates, Ukraine's blueberry exports can reach 3,5-3,8 thousand tons. This will allow Ukraine to gain a place among the top 20 blueberry exporters in the world.

The Netherlands and Poland will most likely remain the main markets for fresh blueberries, but the largest increase in exports will be seen in the markets of Germany, Great Britain and Spain. There is also information about successful shipments of commercial quantities of fresh blueberries to the markets of Scandinavian countries.

Conclusions and forecasts

Despite the drop in nominal and real blueberry prices, the season for blueberry growers in Ukraine was definitely quite successful. Against the background of the problems experienced by Ukrainian farmers growing grains and oilseeds, one can even expect an increase in interest in berry cultivation and an increase in investments in this area.

In 2024, if no special natural disasters occur, blueberry production volumes in Ukraine may increase again.

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